Tory civil war as Mercer backs England star in attack on Priti Patel: ‘Very uncomfortable’

Marcus Rashford: Graffiti on mural replaced with hearts

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The Tory MP for Plymouth Moor View is certain to cause a huge stir with his intervention, in reference to the Home Secretary’s decision to highlight what she dismissed as “gesture politics” prior to the tournament. The issue of racism is very much in the spotlight at the moment given the racist abuse directed towards England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka after the trio missed spot kicks in Sunday’s penalty shootout against Italy, which England lost 3-2.

All three were targeted by trolls on their social media, with a mural in honour of Rashford for his campaign work with respect to food poverty defaced within hours of the final penalty kick.

Aston Villa centre half Mings drew attention to the apparent contrast between Ms Patel’s comments yesterday – when she said she was “disgusted” by the abuse – with her previous criticism of the players for taking the knee.

Mings tweeted: “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.”

And Mr Mercer agreed, posting: “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.”

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Mr Mercer made similar comments shortly after the final at Wembley, tweeting: “Priti and others completely wrong on objecting to taking a knee.

“Racism pervades some of our communities and it abhors your average bloke like me. Do whatever it takes to take a stand. I’m with you. Enough. Well done England.”

Mr Mercer’s comments drew a mixed response from other Twitter users.

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Paul Gavin said: “Johnny – fight it … not quietly, but openly and loudly. We need brave politicians who represent us, not themselves.

“The public are waking up to the way we are being manipulated – and we don’t like it. Our politicians need to lead, so lead!”

Maggie Inchley commented: “Johnny for a while I’ve been thinking you joined the wrong party.”

However, referring to the origins of the kneeling protest, and its connections with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, Jonathan Little posted: “Don’t be ridiculous. BLM is a political organisation – pure and simple.

“It may also have some aims that any reasonable person would agree with but there are plenty of better organisations out there who don’t stoke racial division with a political agenda.”

Mr Mercer’s Tory colleague Natalie Elphicke was yesterday forced to apologise after comments about Rashford made on a WhatApp group of 200 MPs were made public.

Ms Elphicke, MP for Dover, had posted: “They lost – would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics.”

She subsequently said: “I regret messaging privately a rash reaction about Marcus Rashford’s missed penalty and apologise to him for any suggestion that he is not fully focused on his football.”

In a statement issued via his Twitter account yesterday, Rashford said: “”I can take critique of my performance all day long, my penalty was not good enough, it should have gone in but I will never apologise for who I am and where I came from.

“I’ve felt no prouder moment than wearing those three lions on my chest and seeing my family cheer me on in a crowd of 10s of thousands.”

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