The Government is to extend the football banning regime to cover online racism after black England players suffered a torrent of abuse following the side’s defeat in the Euro 2020 final.
Boris Johnson said they were taking “practical steps” to ensure those responsible for the sort of abuse aimed at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka would be barred from matches.
However he faced accusations from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer of trying to “stoke a culture war” and of giving a “green light” to racism after he repeatedly refused to condemn fans who booed players for taking the knee.
There were signs also of concerns among Tory MPs of unease at the Government’s stance after Home Secretary Priti Patel dismissed the action of the England side at the start of matches as “gesture politics”.
Former minister Steve Baker said the subsequent outpouring of support for the players who were subjected to abuse following he penalty shoot-out with Italy should serve as a “wake-up” for the Conservative Party.
Meanwhile, England footballer Jadon Sancho said the racist abuse he and his teammates Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka suffered following England’s Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy was “nothing new” but added “as a society we need to do better”.
In a lengthy post on Instagram, he said: “I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t see the racial abuse that me and my brothers Marcus and Bukayo received after the game, but sadly it’s nothing new. As a society we need to do better, and hold these people accountable.
“Hate will never win. To all the young people who have received similar abuse, hold your heads up high and keep chasing the dream.”
He added: “I want to say a massive thank you for all the positive messages and love and support that far outweighed the negative.”
In the Commons, Mr Johnson praised the way the England side had shown solidarity with those players who were subjected to abuse saying the team “represent the very best of our country”.
“I utterly condemn and abhor the racist outpourings that we saw on Sunday night,” he said.
“So what we’re doing is today is taking practical steps to ensure that the football banning order regime is changed, so that if you are guilty of racist abuse online of footballers, then you will not be going to the match.
“No ifs, no buts, no exemptions and no excuses.”
He also defended Ms Patel, after Sir Keir highlighted the comments of the England defender Tyrone Mings who accused the Home Secretary of stoking the fires of racism.
“The Home Secretary has faced racism and prejudice all her career of a kind he (Sir Keir) can never imagine,” the Prime Minister said.
The Labour leader retorted that the Government had been trying to “stoke a culture war” only to realise that they had been caught on the wrong side of the argument.
“Far from giving racism the red card, the Prime Minister gave it the green light,” he said.
In a reference to the Prime Minister’s appearance at Wembley, he added: “I’ll tell you the worst kind of gesture politics, putting on an England shirt over a shirt and tie whilst not condemning those booing is the worst kind of gesture.”
Earlier, Mr Baker warned the Conservatives needed to realise “just how powerful our words are” when addressing issues such as racism and taking the knee.
“We have to get alongside those players who are taking the knee and understand they are not saying defund the police, they are not anti-capitalist.
“What they are doing is saying ‘We suffer racism’,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“What I am saying to my colleagues is that we have to confront the reality of how we are sometimes heard, even by people on our own side.”
Downing Street said they would seek to introduce the changes to the football banning regime through the upcoming Online Safety Bill following a “swift” 12-week consultation period.
“We will want to introduce it as quickly as possible working with the FA, working with social media companies and others,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
Separately, Chief Constable Mark Roberts warned courts must get tougher with issuing football banning orders and not accept “sob stories” from defendants.
Mr Roberts, who is the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for football policing, told the PA news agency that fans who are “bare-chested, screaming abuse” on match day, don a suit for court and avoid a banning order.
Banning orders are issued when someone is convicted of a “relevant offence” linked to a match, including crimes such as disorderly behaviour, making threats against people or property, and possession of weapons or alcohol.
The list also covers crimes set out under the Football (Offences) Act 1991, which include racist chanting, pitch invasion and throwing missiles.
The duration of a banning order, which is used to bar individuals from attending matches and in some cases can require them to surrender their passports ahead of overseas fixtures, can range from a minimum of three years up to a maximum of 10 years.