Gavin Williamson admits 'mistake' after confusing Marcus Rashford for black rugby player

8 September 2021, 13:30 | Updated: 8 September 2021, 20:31

Gavin Williamson mistook Marcus Rashford for black rugby player Maro Itoje.
Gavin Williamson mistook Marcus Rashford for black rugby player Maro Itoje. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Gavin Williamson has said he made a "genuine mistake" after he confused Marcus Rashford for black rugby player Maro Itoje on Zoom.

The Education Secretary was asked in an interview with the Evening Standard whether he had ever met the Manchester United star, who demanded an end of child hunger in the UK.

He replied: "He seemed incredibly engaged, compassionate and charming but then he had to shoot off. I didn’t want to be the one that was holding him back from his training."

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However, Mr Williamson’s team later told the Standard he actually met Saracens player Itoje, who has campaigned for more schoolchildren to get access to laptops and tablets.

A spokesperson for Rashford confirmed to the paper he had never had any direct communication with Mr Williamson.

The minister later said he had "conflated the issues" of campaigns involving laptops and school meals and "made a genuine mistake".

He said: "Towards the end of a wide-ranging interview in which I talked about both the laptops and school meals campaigns, I conflated the issues and made a genuine mistake. We corrected this with the journalist before publication of the story.

"I have huge respect for both Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje who run effective and inspiring campaigns."

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP described the mistake as a "shocking and embarrassing admission".

She said it shows Mr Williamson "is simply not up to the job".

“The Education Secretary has let down children, parents and teachers by failing to secure enough cash to catch up on lost learning during the pandemic," she said.

"Now he has confused two black sporting heroes and failed to recognise Marcus Rashford, who has led the charge on fighting child poverty.

“If rumours of an imminent reshuffle are true, this must surely be the final nail in the coffin for Gavin Williamson holding ministerial office ever again."

Rashford laughed off the gaffe on Twitter, writing: "Accent could have been a giveaway."

Meanwhile, Itoje joked that his name was not Mario either, following the confusion.

"Just a simple Maro Itoje will do…" he said.

LBC presenter and shadow justice secretary David Lammy described it as "appalling".

He added in a statement: "It is depressing that in 2021 one black man - who has reached the pinnacle of his sport and has given so much back to society - is confused so easily with another by the Education Secretary.

"Gavin Williamson must be the most ignorant, clueless and incapable education secretary in the UK's history."

It comes amid reports Mr Williamson could face the sack in a cabinet reshuffle later this week.

Prime Minster Boris Johnson said the Education Secretary had done a “heroic job” at today’s PMQs but refused to be drawn on speculation about his future.