England footballers ‘taking the knee’ is “divisive” and fans who boo it “would like to end racism as well,” a government minister has said.
Education minister Gillian Keegan told BBC Question Time that the gesture is "symbolism more than action".
Her comments contradict those of Boris Johnson – who backed the England squad’s collective decision to take the knee prior earlier this week.
The prime minister’s spokesman had said he “fully respects” their right to “make their feelings known” and added: “He respects the right of those who want to peacefully protest in this way.”
Players were met with boos by some fans when performing the gesture before last week’s friendly matches against Austria and Romania, but England manager Gareth Southgate has said the players will continue to make the gesture.
The Conservative MP for Chichester said “people have to make their own decisions” when deciding whether to take the knee or not.
"Actually what we’ve ended up with, whether it’s for statues, whether it’s the Queen’s picture, whether it’s taking the knee, we’ve ended up with these things being things that kind of divide us and actually, united societies are what solve these big issues,” Ms Keegan told the virtual audience.
She added: “It’s not my judgment to say whether they should take the knee or not. They’re perfectly free to do what they want. If you want to say, do I think it’s symbolism more than action? Of course it is ... but we’ve seen it’s creating division.
“And by the way, the people who are booing, I’m pretty sure most of them would like to end racism as well. They disagree. There’s a lot of things that have been, you know, there’s different things that people are interpreting.
She added: “There are some Conservative MPs (that) are very much against it, why? Because Black Lives Matter stands for things that they don’t stand for. It’s really about defunding the police and the overthrow of capitalism, which is, you know, Black Lives Matter the actual political organisation.
“And some people will take it and think that’s supporting Black Lives Matter. I’m sure Black Lives Matter will think it’s supporting them.”
Anti-discrimination group Kick It Out says the gesture is “in no way linked to any political organisation”.