Boris Johnson has promised to ban people guilty of sending racist abuse to footballers from attending matches.
The PM said he would take “practical steps” to crack down on the kind of racism faced by some players after England lost Sunday’s Euro 2020 final.
He promised to change football banning orders to include online abuse.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the PM’s words rang “hollow”, as he had refused condemn fans who booed players for taking the knee.
Some Tory MPs and activists have also expressed unease at the government’s stance, with former minister Steve Baker saying the outpouring of support for players subjected to abuse should serve as a “wake-up” for the party.
It comes after England players Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were targeted by online abuse after they missed penalties in the final against Italy.
An online petition calling for the FA and the government to ban those who have carried out racist abuse to be banned from football grounds for life has reached over a million signatures.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said the England team “represent the very best of our country”, adding: “I utterly condemn and abhor the racist outpourings that we saw on Sunday night.”
He said football banning orders would be 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.”
A football banning order is used to prevent someone from attending matches for a set period of time, and can be imposed for offences such as throwing missiles onto the playing area or into the crowd, and racist or indecent chanting at a match.
Downing Street says there will be a 12 week consultation on changing banning orders to include online abuse offences. The government wants the changes to happen “as swiftly as possible” but has not given a precise timetable.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – who has been calling for online racists to be banned from matches – said the government had only promised to act because “they’ve realised they’re on the wrong side, and now they’re hoping nobody has noticed”.
He accused the PM of “trying to stoke a culture war” by refusing “time and time again – even now – to condemn those who boo our players for standing up against racism”.
The prime minister said: “Nobody defends booing the England side.”
“I don’t want to engage in a political culture war of any kind, I want to get on with delivering for the people of this country,” he added.
Sir Keir accused him of not showing racism the red card, but instead giving it the “green light” and of indulging in the “worst kind of gesture politics”, by “putting on an England shirt over a shirt and tie whilst not condemning those booing”.
Labour has had a bruising time in the so-called “culture wars”, with debates about the toppling of statues, and whether the UK is institutionally racist sometimes proving awkward for the party.
Some Conservative MPs feel England’s footballers should stay out of politics, whereas others feel their party leadership – and the home secretary in particular – have been in the wrong place on “taking the knee”.
Today’s skirmishes may or may not signal a truce in a war the PM denies fighting.
But there does seem to be agreement on some of the practical steps that are needed.
If the social media giants remove racist and hateful messages from their platforms, and the perpetrators are banned from the terraces, then we could see real change, not just anti-racist rhetoric.
Ahead of the Euro 2020 tournament, Mr Johnson declined to condemn England fans who booed players taking the knee, saying fans should “cheer them on, not boo”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel described the act as “gesture politics”. Asked in June if she would criticise fans who booed England players taking the knee, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “That’s a choice for them, quite frankly.”
On Monday, the home secretary tweeted that she was “disgusted” by the online abuse directed at some England players, after the team lost to Italy on penalties in Sunday’s Euro 2020 final.
England footballer Tyrone Mings replied that she had “stoked the fire” through her stance on taking the knee.
Sir Keir challenged the prime minister on the home secretary’s stance, saying: “He (Mings) is right, isn’t he?”
Mr Johnson defended the home secretary and said Ms Patel had “faced racism and prejudice all her career of a kind that he can never imagine”.