More Tory MPs will be sent to universities to 'protect free speech' after Jacob Rees-Mogg student protest

Party chairman Brandon Lewis vows to 'step up speaker programme' in response to scuffle

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Monday 05 February 2018 15:34
Comments
Jacob Rees-Mogg stands between brawling students at speech at the University of the West of England

Conservative MPs will be sent to speak at universities across the country to “protect free speech” after masked protesters disrupted a talk Jacob Rees-Mogg was giving to students last week.

In an email to members, Party chairman Brandon Lewis said they would make sure "Conservative voices are heard in universities across the country."

Calling on members to sign a petition backing free speech, following the scuffle at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol, he wrote: “We’ll protect free speech by stepping up our speaker programme."

Mr Rees-Mogg, tipped by some to be the party’s next leader, was surrounded by a group of people as he tried to deliver a speech to students.

Bristol Anti-Fascists claimed online they disrupted the event because of the politician's "homophobic and anti-abortion beliefs".

Mr Lewis accused Momentum - the campaign group set up to support Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - of trying to “silence Conservatives”.

He claimed that “Momentum-supporting thugs” had broken into the event and used “violence and intimidation” to stop Mr Rees-Mogg’s ideas from being heard.

Momentum has denied any involvement in the event organised by the Bristol Politics and International Relations Society.

After the protest, the Bristol Antifascists wrote a message on Facebook which claimed their disruption of the event had been a “complete success”.

The group added: “We still feel appalled on how a university which recently launched an anti Islamophobic campaign and is voted one of the friendly LGBT universities allowed such a figure to spout out his vitriol.”

A UWE spokesperson said: ”We support the democratic right of free speech and peaceful protest. However, we strongly condemn the actions of protesters who disrupted normal debate and behaved in this way.”

Former universities minister Jo Johnson unveiled proposals last year which would mean universities could face fines for failing to uphold free speech under a new higher education regulator – the Office for Students (OfS).

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