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UK PM Johnson says on racism: focus on substance rather than symbols

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson uses a sink in the playground to wash his hands during a visit to Bovingdon Primary School, following the announcement of a GBP 1 billion plan to help pupils catch up with their education before September after spending months out of school during the coronavirus lockdown, in Bovingdon, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, Britain June 19, 2020. Steve Parsons/Pool via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that people should focus less on symbols and more on the substance of racism, adding that he saw no reason for any ban on the rugby song “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.

The Rugby Football Union is reviewing the use of the song as it was believed to have been written in the 19th Century by a black slave.

“Frankly I think what people need to do is focus less on the symbols of discrimination ... all these issues that people are now raising to do with statues and songs and so on - I can see why they’re very emotive, I understand that,” Johnson told Sky.

“But what I want to focus on is the substance of the issue.”

Asked about the Swing Low, Sweet Chariot song, he said: “I certainly don’t think there should be any sort of prohibition on singing that.”

He added that he was curious about why so few people knew all of the words of the song.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison