Boris Johnson has said "there should not be any prohibition" on the singing of England Rugby anthem Swing Low, Sweet Chariot after fierce debate was sparked among fans and players over the song's links to slavery.

The song is routinely sung from the stands in Twickenham and its lyrics and adorned on walls at the home of English rugby, but the song itself has links with American slavery.

The Rugby Football Union's (RFU) has said it will review the song after its links to slavery surfaced, but the prime minister has other concerns.

The prime minister said: "Before we start complaining about Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, I want to know what the rest of the words are."

"I certainly don’t think there should be any prohibition on singing that song," he said, adding: "My curiosity is why people don’t seem to know the rest of it - how does it go on?"

It has been sung by fans at least three decades, although its full history goes back much further, dating back to credited author Wallace Willis - a freed slave from 19th century Oklahoma.

Mr Johnson, himself a rugby fan, said he understands issues people are raising over statues and songs, but said "people need to do is focus less on the symbols of discrimination".

"We will be doing things to make sure that people don’t face unfairness in health, in education, in the criminal justice system," he added.

Former England rugby star Brian Moore tweeted that the song should be "celebrated in its rightful context" and that it should the scrapped by fans.

In a series of tweets about the song, he said it was "sung because of the rude gestures that went with it and without any thought of its origins".

He added that "the world has moved on and, rightly, things that were normal then should not necessarily be normal now" and that "had today's context be know then it might not have been sung".

Current England player Maro Itoje told the Daily Mail this week he felt the lineage was "complicated".

The song became a popular spiritual song in the early 20th century and was popularised again among folk musicians during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Its current guise as a sporting anthem, anecdotally linked to Martin 'Chariots' Offiah, is one that has come under the microscope before as a potential act of cultural appropriation.

Offiah was nicknamed Chariots Offiah, a nod to the film Chariots of Fire, in reference to his lightning speed.

  • Martin Offiah says Swing Low shouldn't be banned for stadiums

He insisted he does not want to see the anthem banned being sung at the rugby.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5Live's Breakfast, he said: "It is a very emotive song and stirs up feelings.

"That is probably something to do with its history and that history is probably not that well known by a lot of people in the UK.

"'I know the RFU are planning to review this song and I champion reviewing it, but I wouldn't support the banning of such a song. When you do try to ban things like that it makes the song more divisive.

Martin Offiah making his debut for Rugby League side the London Broncos, against Warrington. Credit: PA

"We are seeing it being sung by football fans. Stoke City – when a manager referred to them as rugby players. We have to be careful here. Education, information needs to be disseminated.

"I had a conversation with Brian Moore (ex-England hooker) a few years ago and not many people singing that song at Twickenham know about its history.

"I didn't know the history of the song and I was playing in the Middlesex Sevens in 1987. I was only informed this year by the RFU that it was the first time it was ever sung at Twickenham.

He added: "I was proud to be associated with the song but I do feel it is a time to educate England fans about the song. You would then be aware of what you are singing.

"The song is not the issue here. It is about diversity and inclusion. If the review leads to the RFU putting a positive spin on this song, engaging with the communities, looking at the rooms where decisions are made in the RFU and addressing it, that is what it is leading to."

With the ongoing focus on the Black Lives Matter protests, the RFU has decided many who enjoy the song do not know its story and stands ready to address the issue.

England's Maro Itoje said he felt the song's lineage was 'complicated'. Credit: PA

A spokesperson said: "The RFU has stated we need to do more to achieve diversity and we are determined to accelerate change and grow awareness.

"The Swing Low, Sweet Chariot song has long been part of the culture of rugby and is sung by many who have no awareness of its origins or sensitivities. We are reviewing its historical context and our role in educating fans to make informed decisions."

Genevieve Glover was recently appointed as chair of the governing body's diversity and inclusion implementation working group, with RFU chairman Bill Sweeney saying: "We need to do more to achieve diversity across all areas of the game, including administration.

"We have undertaken some very good initiatives at grass roots level to encourage more diverse participation, however that in itself is not enough."