A Tory minister has said holocaust deniers should be protected under new ‘free speech’ laws – as long as they’re not racist.
It comes as the government publishes a new law which could see Universities and Students’ Unions slapped with fines unless they allow far-right speakers with fringe views to speak at events.
Speakers would be allowed to claim compensation if events are cancelled due to protests from members of the public.
And Universities minister Michelle Donelan said such laws could extend to holocaust denial – which is legal under UK law.
“What this bill is designed to do is ensure that we protect free speech that is lawful,” she said.
Asked whether she accepted that holocaust denial was lawful, she said: “Yes.”
She added: “Obviously it would depend on what they were saying, whether it strayed into racism, whether it strayed into hate crimes.
“A lot of these things that we would be standing up for would be hugely offensive. Would be hugely hurtful.”
Challenged again on whether the government would defend the “free speech right” of a holocaust denier, she said: “There’s a difference between condoning and supporting something as opposed to standing up for free speech.”
Ms Donelan said anyone who had an event cancelled over something that was “not unlawful” would have “a case.”
Later, Number 10 contradicted the Minister, saying: “Holocaust denial is not something that the government would ever accept.”
Asked if Boris Johnson agreed with Ms Donelan, his spokesman said: “No.”
And asked if holocaust denial was anti-Semitic, he said: “Yes.”
The government claims there is “growing concern” about a “chilling effect” on university campuses.
The Government’s briefing document cites a Kings College London study as evidence for rising concern about free speech being curtailed in Universities.
While the study found that students are concerned about free speech being curtailed – they believe it is under greater threat in the country as a whole than it is in their university.
Some 54% of students polled in the study thought free speech was under threat in the UK as a whole, compared to 23% who thought it was under threat at their university.
Critics have said the law could result in the opposite of its’ suggested intention, denying the public the free-speech right to protest against views and personalities they find unacceptable.