David Cameron has pledged to teach all school children about Magna Carta as he claims the country needs to be “more muscular” in promoting British values.
Mr Cameron said a “worrying” message of tolerance towards non-British values has led to division and allowed extremism in the UK.
The Prime Minister’s comments follow the controversy of the Trojan Horse schools scandal, in which the Islamist influence found at some institutions in Birmingham led to Education Secretary Michael Gove telling teachers that they must “actively promote British values”.
Mr Cameron said he wanted to use the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, a year from today, as an opportunity for every child to learn about “the foundation of all our laws and principles”.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday today, Mr Cameron claimed that “in recent years, we have been in danger of sending out a worrying message: that if you don’t want to believe in democracy, that’s fine; that if equality isn’t your bag, don’t worry about it; that if you’re completely intolerant of others, we will still tolerate you.
“This has not just let to division it has also allowed extremism – of both the violent and non-violent kind – to flourish. We need to be far more muscular in promoting British values and the institutions that uphold them.”
Magna Carta, which was signed by King John in 1215, is “a great document in our history,” Mr Cameron said, adding: “It is what my favourite book, ‘Our Island Story’, describes as the ‘foundation of all our laws and liberties’. In sealing it, King John had to accept his subjects were citizens – for the first time giving them rights, protections and security."
The Prime Minister said that a “genuinely liberal country” believes in certain values, actively promotes them and “says to its citizens: this is what defines us as a society”.
He said the UK’s “belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law” are as “British as the Union Flag, football and fish and chips”.
“We should not be squeamish about our achievements, or bashful about our Britishness,” he said.
Downing Street will launch the celebratory activity for the anniversary of Magna Carta at an event tomorrow, while the next 12 months will see dedicated lessons in schools teaching children about the charter, with specialist television programming and celebratory events planned.
Historian David Starkey, who is making a BBC2 series about Magna Carta to run next year, praised the plan to highlight the importance of the charter in schools. He said: “Every child, especially Muslim children, should be taught about Magna Carta.
“The reason people have become immigrants in Britain is precisely because they value life here. What are intrinsic to that life are the social, economic and political freedoms that go back to Magna Carta,” he told The Sunday Times.