'Don’t mess with the St George’s Cross': Rishi Sunak speaks out amid fury over England kit

22 March 2024, 11:39 | Updated: 22 March 2024, 11:46

Rishi Sunak has said the St George's Cross should not be 'messed with'
Rishi Sunak has said the St George's Cross should not be 'messed with'. Picture: Alamy/Nike

By Asher McShane

Rishi Sunak has said the St George’s Cross should not be “messed with” amid fury over a controversial design choice on the New England kit.

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Mr Sunak told reporters today that he "prefers the original" and the national flag is a "source of pride" and identity.

"When it comes to our national flags, we shouldn't mess with them because they're a source of pride, identity, who we are, and they're perfect as they are," he said.

Nike says the shirt, launched ahead of Euro 2024, includes a "playful update" to the cross "to unite and inspire".

England fans have vowed to boycott the new £125 football shirt over the colourful redesign of the St George’s Cross.

Former Football Association boss Adrian Bevington today admitted that he would not have signed off on the shirt and said: “It’s our flag. It's a national identity and I just don't really think it needs to be changed”.

Former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton wrote: "Sorry but this is wrong on every level I’m totally against it ! Including the price that Nike football are going to charge."

Former England goalkeeper David Seaman said: “It doesn't need fixing. What's next, are they going to change the Three Lions to three cats? Leave it alone.”

“ It's the St George's Flag. Leave it alone. I'm sure that if they'd approached the lads and asked them about it, they would have said no. Just leave it alone.’”

'I wouldn't have signed off St George's flag kit change', former FA comms director tells LBC

More than 16,000 people have now signed an online petition to scrap the new shirt. They are also calling for a boycott of Nike as critics say they are fed up with national pride being painted negatively or equated with racism.

Fans have described the new shirt as an “abomination to our flag.”

One said: “I’m all for inclusiveness. Make the numbers rainbow coloured, doesn't bother me. But this is our national flag”.

Mr Bevington, the former FA managing director, said: “It's a national identity and I just don't really think it needs to be changed. And it's going to upset a lot of people because people do feel passionate about this.

“It may end up selling more kits for them, who knows, commercially it might drive it with the conjecture it's created. If I'd been in a position to sign off or not, I wouldn't have signed off on that personally.”

A Nike spokesperson said: “The England 2024 Home kit disrupts history with a modern take on a classic.

“The trim on the cuffs takes its cues from the training gear worn by England's 1966 heroes, with a gradient of blues and reds topped with purple. 

“The same colours also feature an interpretation of the flag of St. George on the back of the collar.”

The shirt also has the full backing of the FA.

The new football kit design was shared on social media earlier this week, but Nike has since faced backlash over a modification to the colour of the St George’s Cross.

Located on the back of the shirt collar, the cross is interwoven with several different colours: red, purple, blue and black.

Sharing an up-close photo of the new design on a shirt, Nike Football wrote: “A playful update to the [cross] of St. George appears on the collar to unite and inspire.”

But the brand has faced fury over the design change, with Sir Keir Starmer leading calls for the cross to be returned to traditional red.

The Labour leader said the England flag is a “unifier” and questioned why it had been changed.

“I’m a big football fan, I go to England games, men and women’s games, and the flag is used by everybody,” Sir Keir said.

“It is a unifier. It doesn’t need to be changed. We just need to be proud of it.

“So, I think they should just reconsider this and change it back. I’m not even sure they can properly explain why they thought they needed to change it in the first place," he told The Sun’s Youtube channel.

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The England squad are set to wear the new £125 kit for the first time in their friendly against Brazil on Saturday.

Sharing the new kit designs on Monday, Nike said they would “celebrate football heroes of the past with a modern twist”.

A spokesman for the brand said the colour choices for the kit were a nod to England’s 1966 World Cup victory.

They said: “The England 2024 Home kit disrupts history with a modern take on a classic.

“The trim on the cuffs takes its cues from the training gear worn by England’s 1966 heroes, with a gradient of blues and reds topped with purple. The same colours also feature an interpretation of the flag of St. George on the back of the collar.”

Despite fury from fans, there are no known plans to recall the product, which has reportedly ‘flown off shelves’ since its launch on Monday.

It is understood the FA has also backed the change and will “completely stand by it”, MailOnline reports.

Sources told The Telegraph that there was no connection between the flag’s new colours and the ‘One Love’ rainbow armband Fifa blocked Harry Kane from wearing in support of the LGBTQ+ community in the last World Cup.

Keir Starmer said he did not understand why the colours had been changed on the kit.
Keir Starmer said he did not understand why the colours had been changed on the kit. Picture: Alamy

The colour change has led to a wave of fury from football fans and political figures.

Reform UK MP Anderson labelled the move as “virtue-signalling nonsense”.

“The left have a nerve to ask me why I want my country back,” he told the Daily Express.

“This virtue signalling, namby-pamby, pearl-clutching woke nonsense must stop. Any more of this and I’ll be on the first flight to Rwanda.”

Conservative MP Clarke-Smith said: “Maybe somebody in the design department misheard Three Lions and instead went for three lines on a shirt.

“I’m not sure what this is supposed to be, but it certainly looks nothing like our flag and I’m not sure it needs an ‘update’ either.

“That said, I doubt they’ll shift many at those sort of prices.”

Meanwhile, fans criticised the new design online, as one wrote: “I find this insulting. How dare you change a national flag?”

Another said: “Dreadful - who are you to change our flag? The at George’s flag has been with us since 1606!! Disgraceful.”

One added: "Can you elaborate on how this unites & inspires? I’m thinking the true flag unites & inspires a lot more."

The new kits launched on Monday with a £124.99 price tag for adult sizes and £119.99 for children.

They will be worn by England at Euro 2024, as well as the Lionesses and England Para teams.

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