Boris Johnson has finally told England fans to “cheer, not boo” players taking the knee.
The prime minister’s spokesperson had previously failed to condemn fans who booed players ahead of Euro 2020.
But as the tournament started on Friday, a No10 spokesman told fans to “cheer not boo”, The Mirror has reported.
The statement is a victory for racial justice campaigners and former prime minister Gordon Brown.
Brown had said: “I do think it would be very bad for Britain if these culture wars started to develop, where people seized on one instance of someone doing something and tried to make it a big issue that divided the public rather than united the public.”
On Thursday, Tory education minister Gillian Keegan, said taking a knee was “divisive”. And earlier this week, Tory MP Brendan Clarke-Smith compared England players taking the knee to Nazi salutes.
Asked if Johnson supports England players taking the knee, and if he agrees that taking the knee is “divisive”, a No10 spokesperson said: “The prime minister respects the rights of all people to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices.”
And the spokesperson suggested Johnson wants those booing players to stop doing so: “I think the prime minister has spoken before about his desire for everybody to get behind the national team,” the spokesperson said.
They added: “And the prime minister would like to see everybody get behind the team to cheer them on, not boo.”
Earlier this week, the prime minister’s spokesperson said “on taking the knee, specifically, the prime minister is more focused on action rather than gestures”.
Euro 2020 has started on Friday as Turkey played Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
The match is part of a month-long series of international football games.
Earlier this week, Tory MP Brendan Clarke-Smith has compared kneeling in support of Black Lives Matter to performing a Nazi salute in support of Adolf Hitler.
It comes as England’s football players have decided to take the knee in the European Championship matches – but were booed before their games against Austria and Romania for doing so.
In a Facebook post, Clarke-Smith, who represents Bassetlaw, reflected on the time when England travelled to Germany to play the national team – in 1938.
He said: “Despite protest, that initial game went ahead and both the Home Secretary and the FA made a point of keeping football independent of politics.
“Following the 1936 Berlin Olympics being used as a propaganda exercise and under a great deal of pressure from both the FA and Britain’s ambassador at the time, the players were encouraged to join the hosts in making the Nazi salute prior to the match.
“England players, including the great Sir Stanley Matthews, were not impressed and did not want to do it. However, they had been reassured that it was merely a formal gesture of courtesy and that it did not mean an endorsement of the regime.”
The MP then said the Nazi gesture was a “great source of shame for many of those involved”. He also said the move to stop racism “now comes across as little more than habitual tokenism” and has “lost its effect”.
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, has said the team would continue making the gesture throughout the tournament – and were “more determined than ever”.