The Secretary of State for Culture has told Jewish students that there is no place for cultural or artistic boycotts in the UK, after links with Israel caused cancellations of shows and festivals this summer.

Sajid Javid, who is now the only remaining Asian cabinet minister after Baroness Warsi’s summer resignation over Gaza, was speaking at the Union of Jewish Students’ annual conference. 

Javid said: “A cultural boycott [of Israel] would achieve nothing. It would be needlessly divisive, and would run counter to the long history of cultural freedom that this country holds dear.”

Arguing that art and culture should rise above politics, he said: “Britain is imposing economic sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, but that’s not a reason to stop the British Museum loaning [the Elgin Marbles] to a museum in St Petersburg.”

In the North London speech last week, Javid warned that this sort of political interference would strip the UK’s vibrant art and culture of its diversity and colour. 

It comes after a difficult summer, when Israel’s war in Gaza triggered an outburst of anti-Israel feeling, evidenced in protests and the decisions of festival venues to pull out of events.

Javid reserved particular criticism for the Tricycle theatre for their initial decision – later reversed – to cancel the UK Jewish Film Festival’s scheduling on account of its sponsorship from the Israeli embassy. 

“The moment I heard about the Tricycle ban I knew I couldn’t just let it go,” he said. “It’s completely unacceptable for a theatre to act in this way, and I didn’t shy away from telling its directors that.”