Ex MP running for education role ‘would look at unis that have not adopted IHRA’
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Ex MP running for education role ‘would look at unis that have not adopted IHRA’

James Wharton, the government's preferred choice to be next chair of the Office for Students, urged higher education bodies to back the international antisemitism definition

James Wharton 

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James Wharton (Wikipedia/Source https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfid/28109086290/ Author DFID - UK Department for International Development / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode)

The Government’s preferred candidate for the role of Chair of the Office for Students has said he “would look at those universities that have not” adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

The comments were made by James Wharton, a former Tory MP in the north-east who acted as campaign manager for Boris Johnson’s successful party leadership bid in 2019 and was consequently ennobled last year, becoming Lord Wharton of Yarm.

He made his position clear during House of Commons questions from the Home Affairs Education Committee last week regarding the pending appointment of the chair of the Office for Students.

Universities are independent legal entities with a duty to uphold free speech, which opponents of the IHRA definition say is impacted by some of the working examples relating to Israel in the definition.

“Free speech does not mean inappropriate speech, hate speech or things that make people legitimately feel excluded,” said Wharton, adding that this was “a space in which the regulator should be active”.

Fellow Conservative MP Christian Wakeford raised the issue of IHRA adoption in universities, citing a campaign by the Union of Jewish Students, and asked the candidate what he planned to do. “I am very familiar with the IHRA definition of antisemitism,” Wharton said.

“I will be quite honest: I do not understand why any university would not have adopted it, and I would want to look at those universities that have not, particularly given the very strong steer that they have had from the Government.”

Noting how the Office for Students had supported IHRA adoption, he said: “There is a real question to be asked where it has not been adopted, because I do not think that free speech includes hate speech.

“Once it is adopted – actually, regardless of whether it is adopted – clearly any instances of antisemitic behaviour are entirely unacceptable and would need to be addressed. It is appropriate for a regulator to have concern for that, as it is part of the overall student experience.

“Respecting the autonomy of universities and other higher education institutions does not include the autonomy to allow things to happen in their environments that would conflict with IHRA and with other equalities issues and discrimination issues.

“I can give you a strong indication that this is an issue that I am familiar with and care about, and I want to see more done in the area. That is what I intend to look at.”

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