Boris Johnson has summoned tech companies to Downing Street to order them to do more to tackle online abuse, amid mounting criticism of the government after black England players were deluged with racist posts in the aftermath of their Euro 2020 defeat.
The England footballer Tyrone Mings has criticised the home secretary, Priti Patel, for her condemnation of the racist abuse faced by his teammates, after she called players taking the knee “gesture politics”.
He said Patel did not get to “stoke the fire” ahead of the tournament and then “pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens”.
Johnson will meet executives from the social media firms in person, and will ask them to hand over the details of those who posted racist content online to the police.
His official spokesperson said Johnson would “reiterate the urgent need for action ahead of tougher laws coming into force in the online harms bill” and that there was “no question that abuse was upsetting, unfair and must be stamped out”.
Asked whether No 10 agreed with a government source who said the perpetrators should have their details handed over so that they can be made an example of, they said: “Yes, we expect social media companies to do everything they can to identify these people.
“The police already have a range of powers to identify and pursue those who use anonymity to spread hatred, but we have committed to strengthening the criminal law in this area.”
Concern is growing among some Conservative advisers and MPs that the strategy of pivoting towards the culture wars was backfiring.
One senior Tory called the situation “embarrassing” and highlighted the Conservative MP Lee Anderson who said he would not watch the team because they took the knee. “It was absolutely tragic, it’s a laughing stock,” they said.
“I think there needs to be a serious realisation soon in government that people simply don’t care about the culture war crap. They care about the cost of living, NHS and crime. They don’t want to see us starting fights with Marcus Rashford.”
The former Conservative minister, Johnny Mercer, tweeted of Mings: “The painful truth is that this guy is completely right.”
Mercer said more of his Conservative colleagues should speak out. “We have some great colleagues in the party who reflect this – I am in no way alone. But more must have the courage to speak up, instead of remaining silent in some weird attempt to curry favour.”
Ged Grebby, the chief executive of Show Racism the Red Card, applauded Mings for highlighting the “hypocrisy” of some politicians and government ministers.
“Tyrone hit the nail on the head,” he said. “When the players made a stand against racism by taking the knee at the beginning of the tournament, government ministers like Boris Johnson and Priti Patel did not support their stance and in fact they spoke against it,” he added.
“It is no good condemning racism after it has happened when you did not support the players at the beginning – it is now a case of jumping on the bandwagon,” he continued.