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Minister says universities cannot ban speakers over ‘views or beliefs’ after Germaine Greer trans row

Nick Duffy March 24, 2017

Universities minister Jo Johnson has ordered UK universities to enforce strict “free speech” policies, amid concerns over student ‘no platforming’ of anti-LGBT speakers.

In recent years there has been much debate over ‘No Platform’ policies enforced by a number of university student unions.

The policies are intended to ban hate speakers and members of far-right groups, but the most controversy has been garnered over elements that protect LGBT people.

For example, No Platform policies have been frequently criticised in reports on student protests against Germaine Greer, who is known for her anti-transgender views – though PinkNews is not aware of any speech by Greer being cancelled under a No Platform policy.

But government minister Jo Johnson took a hard policy line on the issue this week.

In a letter to be sent to all universities, Mr Johnson insisted that entry to universities should “not be denied to any individual or body on any grounds connected with their beliefs or views, policy or objective” – extending to “members, students, employees and visiting speakers”.

In the letter, reported in The Times, Mr Johnson ordered all universities to adopt a code of practice setting out free speech procedures – warning: “They are crucial in demonstrating to students that free speech should be at the heart of a higher education community.”

The minister, the brother of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, also appeared to threaten action against universities who do not comply, under powers set to be extended in the Higher Education and Research Bill.

He wrote: “The government proposes to raise the issue of freedom of speech [as a mandatory standard], with a view to ensuring that a principle underscoring the importance of free speech in higher education is given due consideration.

“Subject to the outcome of the consultation, this could require providers that are subject to a public interest governance condition to include a principle about freedom of speech principles in their governance documents.”

Mr Johnson’s sister, Mail journalist Rachel Johnson, has coincidentally come under fire from trans activists in recent weeks after she penned articles branding gender recognition legislation an “absolute farrago of fashionable fruitcakery”.

More: Equality, Jo Johnson, letter, LGBT, minister, Tory, University

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