A minister was forced to defend Gavin Williamson today after he came under fire for confusing footballer Marcus Rashford with rugby player Maro Itoje.
Helen Whately said she thought it was “highly unlikely” the education secretary was racist when quizzed on LBC.
It comes after Williamson was quoted in the Evening Standard as saying he had enjoyed a Zoom discussion with England player Rashford. However, an aide later clarified he had in fact spoken to Itoje.
Asked if he was racist or incompetent, Whately initially said: “Honestly, I don’t know.
“He’s put out his explanation and there’s really nothing more that I can say about it.”
Pressed by presenter Nick Ferrari, she added: “I can’t believe for a moment that he is. I think that is highly unlikely.
“It’s not necessarily one or the other. You’ve given me a false choice - you’re trying to put me in a trap.”
Manchester United’s Rashford responded to Williamson’s comment, saying the difference in accent between him and Londoner Itoje was a possible “giveaway”.
England and Saracens star Itoje tweeted: “Due to recent speculation I thought it was necessary to confirm that I am not Marcus Rashford.
“And whilst we are here my name is not Mario either!! Just a simple Maro Itoje will do.
“Much love, Marcu… I mean Maro Itoje.”
In a statement, Williamson said: “Towards the end of a wide-ranging interview, in which I talked about both the laptops and school meals campaigns, I conflated the issues and made a genuine mistake.
“We corrected this with the journalist before publication of the story.
“I have huge respect for both Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje, who run effective and inspiring campaigns.”