Jo Johnson to tell universities to stop ‘no-platforming’ speakers

Rajeev Syal and Rowena Mason:

Universities could face fines for failing to uphold free speech if their student unions do not give a platform to speakers such as Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell, the higher education minister has said.

Jo Johnson said some student campaigners were trying to stifle debate as he confirmed plans to allow the newly created Office for Students (OfS) to fine or suspend institutions that fail to protect freedom of speech on campuses.

The government’s Boxing Day announcement does not name universities or student campaigners that have suppressed free speech and follows a similar one in October.

But speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Johnson suggested fines could be one of the punishments used to deal with “no platforming” of campaigners with controversial views.

Asked about cases where students had tried to deny speaking slots to Tatchell, a gay rights campaigner, and Greer, a feminist writer, over their views on transgender issues, he said: “The Office for Students will have a range of remedies at its disposal which do include fines at the more extreme end of the spectrum. I think it is important that we look at the cases mentioned.

“These are speakers who have been potentially banned or harried under no-platforming or safe spaces decisions. On all reasonable definitions, they are advocates of openness and liberal values and should be welcomed on our campuses.”