Gavin Williamson said he met ‘engaged’ Marcus Rashford – but actually met Maro Itoje

By Jane Dalton

Marcus Rashford has laughed off a gaffe by education secretary Gavin Williamson, who told the Evening Standard he had met the England footballer on Zoom when he had in fact met England rugby star Maro Itoje.

Asked whether he had met Rashford, who forced the government to U-turn on free school meals provision during the pandemic, Mr Williamson told the paper: “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.”

But his advisers later told the Standard he had met Itoje.

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

Marcus Rashford (left) and Maro Itoje (Reuters/Getty)

Mr Williamson said he was scouring the globe for laptops to give to children who were falling behind at one stage during the pandemic.

Itoje had campaigned to bridge the digital divide, not Rashford.

The 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 the 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 footballer said Itoje and Rashford were successful young black men, but they had little more in common.

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

In June last year, then health secretary Matt Hancock accidentally called Rashford “Daniel” during a Sky News 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 spokesperson 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.

“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.”

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