Oxford: Boris Johnson backs opposition to removal of Queen portrait

9 June 2021, 16:02

Boris Johnson supports Gavin Williamson&squot;s branding of the move as "absurd"
Boris Johnson supports Gavin Williamson's branding of the move as "absurd". Picture: PA

By Daisy Stephens

Boris Johnson has said he supports the Education Secretary’s criticism of Oxford University students who voted to remove a photo of the Queen from their common room, according to Downing Street.

A spokesperson from Number 10 has confirmed that the Prime Minister supports Gavin Williamson’s views on the removal of the photo, which he called "simply absurd".

The spokesperson said: "You have had the Education Secretary's words, which the PM supports."

Members of Magdalen College Middle Common Room (MCR), which is made up of graduate students, overwhelmingly voted to remove the portrait of the Queen from their common room.

On Tuesday evening, Mr Williamson tweeted: "Oxford University students removing a picture of the Queen is simply absurd.

"She is the Head of State and a symbol of what is best about the UK.

"During her long reign she has worked tirelessly to promote British values of tolerance, inclusivity and respect around the world."

Read more: Patients face postcode lottery for cancer treatment with trusts missing targets

Read more: Covid: Passengers on UK cruise ship banned from Scotland due to restrictions

He has since faced criticism from the University and College Union (UCU), which said the comments were a "distraction from the disastrous, systemic failings this Government has presided over in higher education".

General secretary Jo Grady said: "Williamson styles himself as a champion of free speech and academic freedom, but never misses an opportunity to attack staff and students who are merely exercising these rights.

"As university staff have already pointed out, this Government doesn't care about freedom of speech on campus, and its attempts to change the law should be seen as nothing other than a Trojan horse for policing what students and staff can and cannot do."

Barrister Dinah Rose, president of the college, said that staff had received "threatening messages" over the controversy.

She tweeted: "If you are one of the people currently sending obscene and threatening messages to the college staff, you might consider pausing, and asking yourself whether that is really the best way to show your respect for the Queen.

"Or whether she'd be more likely to support the traditions of free debate and democratic decision-making that we are keeping alive at Magdalen."

Read more: Ryanair and BA investigated for refusing refunds during pandemic

Read more: Covid: Govt contract for firm run by Cummings' friends was unlawful, High Court rules

In a series of tweets, she emphasised that the students are not representative of the college, but added: "Magdalen strongly supports free speech and political debate, and the MCR's right to autonomy.

"Maybe they'll vote to put it up again, maybe they won't.

"Meanwhile, the photo will be safely stored."

She concluded that being a student is about "exploring and debating ideas" and often about "provoking the older generation", adding: "Looks like that isn't so hard to do these days."