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Downing Street has urged football fans to be respectful of England players who choose to take the knee in a stand against racial injustice.

Boris Johnson‘s official spokesperson called on football fans to “get behind” the team at the upcoming European Football Championships which kick off on Friday and to support “individuals’ rights to protest”.

But he did, however, refuse to explicitly condemn supporters who booed members of the England team making the gesture in a friendly game against Romania on Sunday.

England's Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips take a knee before the international friendly match at Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough on Sunday June 6, 2021
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England’s Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips take a knee before the international friendly match against Romania on Sunday

Asked whether the Prime Minister was refusing to criticise fans who boo the gesture, the spokesperson said: “No… the Prime Minister is supporting the England football team and wants them to succeed, and he wants the whole country to get behind them in that endeavour in this tournament.”

“I would want all England fans to be respectful in any football match and, as I have said, he respects the right of those who want to peacefully protest in this way,” he said.

Asked whether that means Mr Johnson does not want people to boo the players for taking the knee, the spokesman said: “I want all England fans to be respectful in any sort of football match.

“As I’ve said, he respects the rights of those who want to peacefully protest in this way.”

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It comes after one Conservative MP, in a post on social media on Sunday, drew parallels between taking the knee and performing the Nazi salute.

In a controversial Facebook post, Brendan Clarke-Smith, MP for Bassetlaw, said: “Whilst the intention may be admirable and we all want to put a stop to racism in football and wider society, it now comes across as little more than habitual tokenism and has lost its effect.”

Mr Clarke-Smith then compared the gesture to when England’s team were ordered to perform a Nazi salute at a game in Germany in 1938, describing it as a “propaganda exercise”.

The majority of players performed the salute, purportedly believing it was a cultural gesture, but those who refused were removed from the squad.

Mr Clarke-Smith joins fellow backbench Tory MP Lee Anderson, who last week threatened to boycott watching his “beloved England” at the upcoming football tournament over players choosing to take the knee before matches.

Conservative MP for Ipswich, Tom Hunt, posted on social media: “Euros [a] great opportunity for country to come together behind team. Harder when they insist on divisive political gestures.”

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England manager Gareth Southgate said at the weekend his players were ‘more determined than ever to take the knee’.

A minority of fans jeered England’s players for taking a knee before the 1-0 friendly win over Romania at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium on Sunday.

England manager Gareth Southgate said at the weekend that his players were “more determined than ever to take the knee”.

The PM’s official spokesperson said Mr Johnson respected the right of people to “peacefully protest” amid the ongoing row.

Asked whether Boris Johnson believed that taking a knee showed support for the political aims of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister’s spoken on the record on this issue before.

“On taking the knee, specifically, the Prime Minister is more focused on action rather than gestures.

England's Marcus Rashford (centre) and Romania's Vlad Chiriches battle for the ball during the international friendly match at Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough, on Sunday June 6, 2021
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Some fans booed England’s players as they took the knee before Sunday’s match

“We have taken action with things like the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities and that’s what he’s focused on delivering.

“But… he fully respects the right of those who do choose to peacefully protest to make their feelings known.”

He added: “I would want all England fans to be respectful in any football match and, as I have said, he respects the right of those who want to peacefully protest in this way.”

The act of taking the knee rose to prominence in 2016 when NFL player Colin Kaepernick sat and later knelt during the US national anthem, in a gesture that became a common form of protest over racism and police brutality against black people.

Premier League and England players began doing it before matches in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020, which prompted a wave of protests across the world over systemic discrimination faced by black people.

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt considering further public spending cut to boost tax giveaway in budget

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt considering further public spending cut to boost tax giveaway in budget

Jeremy Hunt is considering a last minute further cut to public spending to boost the tax giveaway in Wednesday’s budget.

The Politics At Jack And Sam’s podcast, out now, set out how Number 10 and 11 have spent recent days finding as many different ways of raising future revenue as possible to increase the size of Wednesday’s tax cuts.

National insurance could be cut by 2p again in the budget if the chancellor succeeds in finding the right mix of revenue raising measures and spending cuts.

Listen above and then click or tap here to subscribe to Politics At Jack And Sam’s wherever you get your podcasts

Currently spending is due to rise 1% above inflation after next year. However, if this was cut to 0.75% above inflation, that would raise £5-6bn.

The chancellor would hope to resist questions about where he would cut, saying he is doing an efficiency drive and decisions would be outlined at a future spending review post election.

The decision on whether to cut future spending was live in the Treasury as recently as Friday, and this morning the chancellor was arguing about the importance of finding efficiencies.

More on Jeremy Hunt

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What do people want in the budget?

This is likely to boost Labour’s charge that the government is “maxing out the credit card” to keep its own supporters on side.

However, most Tories in government believe this is a necessary trade-off to allow the party to go into the next election presenting themselves as the low-tax party.

Some senior Tories disagree, however, worrying that the public is more worried about the state of public services than tax cuts.

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Budget 2024 explained

The budget is likely to have cuts or the abolition of non-dom status, which could raise £2-3bn, plus other small loopholes closing generating a few hundred million in revenue.

The Politics At Jack And Sam’s Podcast also reveals how delaying Contaminated Blood compensation payouts has helped deliver tax cuts.

In January, the Treasury was worried those payments might reduce the amount the chancellor could spend before he reached the borrowing limits from his fiscal rules.

However, the inquiry will not report until later and the government is resisting calls for interim payouts.

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Christian Horner ‘absolutely’ expects to remain in charge after claims of inappropriate behaviour

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Christian Horner 'absolutely' expects to remain in charge after claims of inappropriate behaviour

Red Bull boss Christian Horner has said he “absolutely” expects to remain in charge for next week’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The team principal told Sky Sports F1 that Red Bull is a “very strong team” after reigning world champion Max Verstappen and his teammate Sergio Perez came first and second in Saturday’s Bahrain Grand Prix – the first race of the season.

He said: “We have got tremendous support, tremendous partners and great shareholders behind us as well.

“You don’t achieve this kind of result by not being united.”

Horner was asked if he expects to still be in charge in Jeddah after a tumultuous week to which he replied: “Yes, absolutely. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

The 50-year-old watched the podium ceremony with his wife, former Spice Girl Geri Horner, after hundreds of WhatsApp messages reported to have been part of Red Bull’s recent probe were leaked.

He was placed under investigation following allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards a female colleague but has since been cleared.

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Horner has always denied the claims.

The couple, who married in 2015, walked hand-in-hand and shared a kiss at the Grand Prix but Horner later admitted the past few days had “not been pleasant”.

“I have the support of an incredible family, an incredible wife, an incredible team and everybody within that team,” he said.

“And my focus is going racing, winning racing and doing the best I can.

“It was a day about starting the season in the best possible way. My focus is on this team, my family, my wife and racing.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner speaks with his wife Geri ahead of the F1 Bahrain Grand Prix. Pic: AP
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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner speaks with his wife Geri ahead of the F1 Bahrain Grand Prix. Pic: AP

The Horners walk onto the paddock hand in hand in Bahrain. Pic: PA
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The Horners walk onto the paddock hand in hand in Bahrain. Pic: PA

Earlier, Formula One world champion Max Verstappen suggested his boss is “probably a little bit distracted” following the reports.

Asked about the leaked messages after he took pole position in qualifying on Saturday, Verstappen said: “It’s not our business.

“When I look at how Christian operates within the team, he has been an incredible team boss, so absolutely from the performance side of things, you can’t even question that.

“So that’s what I am also dealing with. I speak to Christian a lot, and also of course throughout the weekend here he is fully committed to the team.

“He’s also here for the performance, of course probably a little bit distracted, but like I said before, we just focus on the performance things and that’s how we all work together.”

Horner by the track in Bahrain on Thursday. Pic: AP
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Horner by the track in Bahrain on Thursday. Pic: AP

The messages were leaked to numerous media organisations and F1 team principals from an anonymous email account, but have not been confirmed as genuine.

Horner subsequently released a statement, saying: “I won’t comment on anonymous speculation but to reiterate, I have always denied the allegations.

“I respected the integrity of the independent investigation and fully co-operated with it every step of the way.

“It was a thorough and fair investigation conducted by an independent specialist barrister and it has concluded dismissing the complaint made. I remain fully focused on the start of the season.”

Verstappen in Bahrain on Thursday. Pic: AP
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Verstappen in Bahrain on Thursday. Pic: AP

Ahead of this weekend’s race, president of the FIA, Mohammed ben Sulayem said any complaint lodged with its compliance officer would be investigated but it had not received one relating to Horner’s situation and would not “jump the gun”, according to the Financial Times.

“It’s damaging the sport,” ben Sulayem told the newspaper. “This is damaging on a human level.”

Horner had been questioned for eight hours by a lawyer on 9 February.

Red Bull confirms grievance dismissed

In a statement, Red Bull said: “The independent investigation into the allegations made against Mr Horner is complete, and Red Bull can confirm that the grievance has been dismissed.

“The complainant has a right of appeal. Red Bull is confident that the investigation has been fair, rigorous and impartial.

“The investigation report is confidential and contains the private information of the parties and third parties who assisted in the investigation, and therefore we will not be commenting further out of respect for all concerned.

“Red Bull will continue striving to meet the highest workplace standards.”

Read more from Sky News:
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Geri Horner and Christian Horner arrive at the 2023 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Film Awards at the Royal Festival Hall in London, Britain, February 19, 2023. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
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Geri Horner and Christian Horner at the 2023 BAFTA Film Awards last February. Pic: Reuters

Horner has said his wife has been “very supportive” during the process. He also revealed he had been “overwhelmed” by messages of goodwill from within the sport.

He has been Red Bull team principal since they entered Formula One 19 years ago and is the longest-serving boss on the grid.

During that period he has overseen the team win seven drivers’ world championships and six constructors’ titles.

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Chancellor tempers tax cut expectations as £800m tech package to free up public service workers’ time revealed

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Chancellor tempers tax cut expectations as £800m tech package to free up public service workers' time revealed

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has tempered expectations of tax cuts in Wednesday’s budget as he announced an £800m package of technology reforms designed to free up time for frontline public sector workers.

As part of Treasury reforms, police will use drones to assess incidents such as traffic collisions and artificial intelligence will be deployed to cut MRI scan times by a third.

The department said the changes have the potential to deliver £1.8bn worth of benefits to public sector productivity by 2029.

Follow latest: PM rails against ‘extremist forces’

In a statement, the chancellor said: “We shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking more spending buys us better public services.

“There is too much waste in the system and we want public servants to get back to doing what matters most: teaching our children, keeping us safe and treating us when we’re sick.

“That’s why our plan is about reaping the rewards of productivity, from faster access to MRIs for patients to hundreds of thousands of police hours freed up to attend burglaries or incidents of domestic abuse.”

More on Budget

Darren Jones, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said the announcement amounted to “spin without substance”.

Read more: What to expect from this week’s budget – from tax cuts to vaping

Meanwhile, Mr Hunt told The Sunday Telegraph that he “won’t take any risks” after previous speculation he may cut income tax.

The newspaper said the chancellor is due to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Sunday evening to make a final decision on whether a 2p cut is affordable.

Mr Hunt said that bringing down the current tax burden is a “long path” and that the financial forecasts setting out how much so-called “headroom” he has to meet his fiscal rules had “gone against us”.

Pic: PA
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) and Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt in East Yorkshire. Picture date: Monday February 26, 2024.
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Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt last year. Pic: PA

According to The Sunday Times, the Office for Budget Responsibility told the chancellor on Wednesday that he has £12.8bn of headroom to play with – more than £2bn less than the figure the Treasury is said to have previously been basing its calculations on.

Mr Hunt is under pressure to deliver tax cuts in what could be the last economic set piece from the Conservative government before the next general election.

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Why don’t we know when the UK election is?

The tax burden is reaching record levels, with it expected to rise to its highest point since the Second World War before the end of this decade as the country looks to pay back heavy borrowing used for support during COVID-19 and the energy spike in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Car industry demands budget aid to help electric vehicle sales

No 10 and No 11 are said to be weighing up if it is possible to administer such a cut or whether to reduce national insurance contributions further, having sliced it by two percentage points in the autumn statement.

The cut in November did not reduce taxation for pensioners – a key voter demographic for the Tories – as they do not pay national insurance.

Mr Hunt is said to be preparing to raise £300m by changing the preferential tax regime for holiday lets in the budget.

Another £500m may be raised by introducing a levy on vapes.

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What public finance figures mean for the budget

He also is thought to be considering abolishing the non-dom status as a potential way of raising revenue.

Non-domiciled status allows foreign nationals who live in the UK, but are officially domiciled overseas, to avoid paying UK tax on their overseas income or capital gains.

Mr Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty has previously enjoyed non-dom status.

Watch Jeremy Hunt appear on Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips on Sky News from 8.30am.

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