Gary Neville’s fresh attack on “liar” Boris Johnson over comments on taking knee

Gary Neville has called Boris Johnson a “liar” over his claim that he “always said it was wrong to boo the England players” over their decision to take the knee.

Despite the FA and the players themselves making clear that they intended the gesture as an apolitical protest against racism, they were repeatedly booed by a section of the England support before and during Euro 2020. While the booing was consistently drowned out by applause, it still overshadowed much of the tournament.

Following England’s penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in the final on Sunday, during which Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka failed to convert their spot kicks, all three were subject to racial abuse online.

On Monday morning, Johnson tweeted: “This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media.

“Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.”

In response, Neville pointed out the hypocrisy of Johnson’s position given that, in a briefing last month, his official spokesman initially declined to condemn those booing the players over taking the knee.

“[The Prime Minister] fully respects the right of those who choose to peacefully protest and make their feelings known”, his spokesman said.

“On taking the knee, specifically, the Prime Minister is more focused on action rather than gestures.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel echoed that sentiment, calling the players’ protest “gesture politics”, though Johnson later changed tack and said via his spokesman that he wanted fans to “cheer them on, not boo.”

In an interview with Sky News, Neville said: “Two or three weeks ago, we had a manager [in Gareth Southgate] I think everybody in this country trusts, a leader who everyone in this country trusts, we had players line up for five days on the bounce, telling us that they were taking a knee against racism and to promote equality.

“We had high-ranking ministers, including the prime minister in this country, say that it’s okay for our population to boo them for taking the knee against racism and promoting equality.

“It starts at the top. What do you think is going to happen underneath in life? The parents do something, the children follow.

“Why are we surprised by this any more? Seriously, we’ve got to look at the roots of this. There’s been so much division in this country over the last two or three years.

Gary Neville has called out Boris Johnson over his personal record on racism

“The way Brexit was debated. Not Brexit itself, Remain or Leave, the actual way in which it was debated. It promotes division.

“The taking of the knee over the last month, when the players tried to explain it was to promote equality and to be against racism, was ridiculed by our top-ranking government officials.

“When we get racist abuse after a football match at the end of a tournament, I expect it, unfortunately, because it exists, and it’s actually promoted by the prime minister, who called Muslim women ‘letterboxes’, said they look like letterboxes.

“Honestly, we’ve got to do something about this. I keep saying it on television, I keep getting accused of having a go at the Conservative Party.

“It’s nothing to do with Conservative or Labour or Liberal Democrat, it’s to do with integrity, it’s to do with doing the right thing.

“It gets me wound up that we’re surprised we’re talking about this. I knew the minute Bukayo Saka, Rashford and Sancho missed last night, I knew we’d be waking up this morning to headlines of racist abuse.”

In a press conference on Thursday, Johnson was asked by Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby about his own history of “divisive” rhetoric, such as referring to Africans as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, and attempted to defend his record.

“Obviously I reject that, or disagree with it I should say,” he replied. “I think racism has absolutely no place in our society and I think that the England team represent the very best of us and our country.”

Pressed on why he and his ministers failed to condemn the booing of the players from the start, he said: “I always said that it was wrong to boo the England players… that is my firm belief.”

In a succinct response, Neville tweeted: “Liar”. Replying to an account pleading with him to “leave Boris alone”, he said: “I will when he leaves office and is replaced with someone competent and doesn’t lie.”

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