Conservative party must change attitude towards taking the knee, warns Steve Baker

England players take a knee before kick-off at the Euros. Credit: PA

A senior Tory MP has called on Conservatives to change their attitude towards people who take the knee against racism, as he suggests shows of solidarity against discrimination should be welcomed.

Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister, has urged for more understanding of the gesture, which was taken by numerous teams, including England and Wales, at their games during Euro 2020. 

As reported by The Guardian on Tuesday, Mr Baker wrote a message to MPs on the Conservatives Against Racism, For Equality group - which boasts Jeremy Hunt and Robert Halfon as members.

He said: "Much as we can’t be associated with calls to defund the police, we urgently need to challenge our own attitude to people taking a knee. I fear we are in danger of misrepresenting our own heart for those who suffer injustice."

Conservative MP Steve Baker Credit: PA

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday morning, Mr Baker added: “It is a wake-up call to the Conservative Party of just how powerful our words are when we navigate these issues."

“What they are doing is saying ‘we suffer racism’.”“It is one thing to boo the referee with a marginal decision, but it is another to boo brave, black players who are saying no to racism and bravely going out on the field to take a knee and say we are expressing our solidarity with those who are suffering racism.”

His comments come after England defender Tyrone Mings accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of pretending to be disgusted by racist abuse, after she previously described taking the knee as "gesture politics".

On Monday evening, The Aston Villa defender posted on Twitter: “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”

Within an hour of being posted the tweet had been liked more than 200,000 times and retweeted almost 80,000 times.

Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, a former defence minister, said of Mings' tweet: "The painful truth is that this guy is completely right. "Very uncomfortable with the position we Conservatives are needlessly forcing ourselves into. Do I fight it or stay silent? Modern Conservatism was always so much more to me. We must not lose our way."The issue of taking the knee was thrust into the spotlight when Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were targeted with vile racist abuse on social media after they missed penalties in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday.

Labour has been granted an urgent question in parliament on Wednesday, which relates to racism on social media platforms. Mr Baker, MP for Wycombe, said: “This may be a decisive moment for our party.”

The opposition is also calling on the Government to use the upcoming Online Safety Bill to empower courts to ban anyone convicted of racist abuse online from entering football grounds

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps came to the defence of Ms Patel on Wednesday morning, who did condemn the racist abuse directed towards the England footballers after their tense 3-2 penalty defeat at Wembley.

He told Sky News: "I thought the comments about Priti Patel were unusual, were odd because she has spoken very movingly in the House of Commons about her own experiences and suffering from racism."

Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps has supported Priti Patel. Credit: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire/PA Images

Shapps added: "I think Priti Patel, who has very movingly spoken about the racism that she suffered- I think particularly as a schoolchild, being somebody whose family is from I think Ugandan and Indian heritage I think is the last person in the world that we should accuse of anything."

Grant Shapps said Priti Patel has spoken movingly about racism she suffered in the past

"The social media companies have a big responsibility here and the Prime Minister hauled them in yesterday and made clear that we are passing a bill called the Online Harms legislation, which would, if they do not sort this out, mean that they could be fined up to 10% of their global income if they do not deal with this," he said.

Another Conservative MP, Andrew Rosindell, has suggested that Mings and other England players should "focus on football, not politics" after the end of Euro 2020.