Government rebuts claims that free speech bill could protect Holocaust deniers

Critics have voiced fears the planned legislation could protect the rights of those who deny the Shoah to speak on campuses


Britain's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives in Downing Street in central London on May 1, 2020. - Britain is "past the peak" of its coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday, despite recording another 674 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the toll to 26,711. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

The government’s proposed free speech bill would “never protect Holocaust deniers”, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs on Thursday. 
Universities and student unions would face new “freedom of speech and academic duties” under changes included in the Queen’s Speech that would give fining powers to a regulator.  
Critics have feared the planned legislation could potentially protect the free speech rights of those who deny the Shoah and their ability to speak on university campuses. 
Universities minister Michelle Donelan was grilled on the subject during a much-discussed interview with BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday.
While some countries, such as France and Germany, have laws against it, Holocaust denial is not a criminal offence in the UK.
Speaking to MPs on Thursday, shadow education secretary MP Kate Green said the bill “does appear to offer protection, potentially, to antisemites and Holocaust deniers.”
The Labour MP, who revealed her Jewish background last year, described the bill as “flawed” and warned it could have “dangerous and troubling consequences.”
But Mr Williamson said the “legislation will never, never, never protect Holocaust deniers, because that is something that should never and will never be tolerated.”
He added that the bill would only protect “free speech within the law” and noted that antisemitic activity is banned under the Equality Act 2010.
He said the Conservative Party “does not stand for antisemitism, unlike the party opposite” in an apparent reference to the row over antisemitism that engulfed Labour last year.

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