British education secretary Gavin Williamson under fire after mixing up sports stars Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje

By Jane Dalton, London

Footballer Marcus Rashford has laughed off a gaffe by British education secretary Gavin Williamson, who said he had met the England star on Zoom when he had in fact met British and Irish Lions rugby star Maro Itoje.

Asked whether he had met Rashford, who forced the government to about turn on free school meals provision during the pandemic, Mr Williamson told London’s Evening Standard: “We met over Zoom and 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.”

Reacting to the story with a crying/laughing emoji, Rashford tweeted: “Accent could have been a giveaway.”

Mr Williamson said that at one stage in the pandemic he was scouring the globe for laptops to give to children who were falling behind. Itoje had campaigned to bridge the digital divide, not Rashford.

The English rugby player also made light of the blunder, tweeting: “Due to recent speculation I thought it was necessary to confirm that I am not Marcus Rashford… And whilst we are here my name is not Mario either!! Just a simple Maro Itoje will do…”

Mr Williamson 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.”

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy wrote on Twitter: “This is appalling. Gavin Williamson what was it about Maro Itoje that made you mistake him for Marcus Rashford? You must be the most ignorant, clueless and incapable education secretary in the UK’s history.”

A spokesperson for the Manchester United and England footballer said Itoje and Rashford were successful young black men, but there the similarities ended.

“Marcus’s consistent ask to those in power has been collaboration. More often than not, this ask is rebuffed,” the spokesperson said.

“Maro and Marcus are two incredibly successful young black men, but there is little more they have in common.”

In June last year, then health secretary Matt Hancock accidentally called Rashford “Daniel” during a TV interview.

Rashford’s spokesperson added: “Whether it’s Daniel Rashford or a Maro Itoje reference, the message remains the same. Put our children first.”

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said: “This is a shocking and embarrassing admission that shows Gavin 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. Now he has confused two black sporting heroes and failed to recognise Marcus Rashford, who has led the charge on fighting child poverty. (© Independent News Service)

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