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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Academic calls on universities minister to defend her freedom of speech

Academic calls on universities minister to defend her freedom of speech

Cambridge professor says invite to address civil servants was cancelled because of tweet criticising Priti Patel

A Cambridge University academic has called on the universities minister to defend her freedom of speech, after a claim that her invitation to speak to civil servants was cancelled because of a tweet criticising Priti Patel, the home secretary.

Prof Priyamvada Gopal, a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and a respected author on British colonial history, had been invited to speak this week to Home Office officials on the links between the department’s policies and recent colonial history, including the Windrush nationality scandal.

But Gopal said the invitation was withdrawn at the weekend. The rightwing politics blog Guido Fawkes claimed credit for the cancellation after highlighting the tweet, originally posted in February.

The February tweet said: “Priti Patel is also a reminder that many Asians in British Africa had ferociously anti-black attitudes and were used by colonial administrations to keep black populations in their place. An attitude she brings to government.”

The cancellation message from the Home Office’s adviser made no mention of the tweet. Gopal said she was entitled to be defended by the Department for Education and ministers, based on their high-profile campaigns and statements supporting academic freedom and deploring no-platforming.

Gopal said she had appealed to Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, to look into the reasons behind the cancellation. “I said, I’ve been cancelled because of pressure by a partisan group, I understand that you are invested in freedom of speech, please help me,” Gopal said. “I would like her to defend academic freedom consistently.”

Donelan this week wrote a commentary for the Times defending Kathleen Stock, the Sussex university professor who has been the target of protests for her views on gender identity. “Without free speech, and the right to offend, how much longer may we have had to wait for enfranchisement for all, religious freedom, or equality before the law?,” Donelan wrote.

Gopal said she was sad to have lost the opportunity to speak about her work to the Home Office. “I don’t think the Home Office is a monolith, and there are people who work there who have genuine interests as human beings and as workers. I think it’s a shame, and I just hope that whoever did the invite, and was persistent in getting me to come, isn’t in trouble,” she said.

A government spokesperson said: “Due diligence checks are always taken on any speakers and it is important to note speakers who come to these events are not always representative of the view of the government.”

Earlier this year Gopal was involved in a research group and seminar series evaluating the historical legacy of Winston Churchill, which drew criticism for its examination of Churchill’s support for colonialism and his views on race.


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