‘Woke’ speakers critical of Boris Johnson banned from Whitehall

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Boris Johnson - Owen Humphreys/PA
Boris Johnson - Owen Humphreys/PA

Civil servants have been banned from inviting “woke” speakers who criticise Boris Johnson’s policies to address internal events in Whitehall, a leaked memo reveals.

An “official-sensitive” email circulated across Whitehall warned that invitations should not be issued to individuals who have “spoken against key government policies”.

Officials were told to carry out “due diligence” checks on speakers, including examining their social media posts.

The move follows several controversies over speakers critical of the Government being invited to address Whitehall social or networking events.

Senior Conservatives reacted with fury when it emerged that Prof Priyamvada Gopal, a Left-wing Cambridge academic, who had made offensive remarks about Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, had been invited to deliver a lecture at the Home Office last month.

The memo distributed to officials, and leaked to The Telegraph, warns that “the relationship between civil servants, ministers and the public” was at risk of being “adversely affected” by any failures to “retain impartiality”.

The warning comes ahead of a new Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy being overseen by Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister, which Tory sources see as an opportunity to help eradicate “woke and politicised” practices in Whitehall.

The note, sent by a senior Cabinet Office official, states: “We recognise that it is not always clear to determine whether an activity is deemed political or if an individual has spoken against key government policies.

“This is why all cross-government networks must carry out due diligence checks on all speakers invited to events, and the content of any events and communications to ensure impartiality.”

The memo continues: “Networks and their members must complete such checks to avoid any invitations being issued to individuals and/or organisations that have provided commentary on government policy, political decisions, approaches or individuals in government that could be deemed political.

“Commentary may have been made on social media or other outlets.”

Critical of Priti Patel

Prof Gopal’s invitation was disclosed by the Guido Fawkes political blog, which later reported that her “woke” lecture was cancelled at the 11th-hour over a Twitter posting in which she said of the Home Secretary, whose parents fled Uganda in the 60s: “Priti Patel is also a reminder that many Asians in British Africa had ferociously anti-black attitudes and were used by colonial administrations to keep black populations in their place. An attitude she brings to government.”

Responding to the story at the time on her blog, Prof Gopal said her tweet had been “far from being racist”.

Last month Prof Gopal said her “routine speaking engagement” was “cancelled at short notice following pressure from a partisan campaign group”.

Separately, Home Office officials hosted an online lecture by Afua Hirsch, a writer and broadcaster who previously accused Boris Johnson of making a “litany of racist statements”, and stating of the Prime Minister: “His oafish stupidity is part of Boris Johnson’s electoral brand.”

The memo was distributed to the organisers of Whitehall’s “network” groups - volunteer organisations, such as the Civil Service LGBT+ Network, Civil Service Race Forum and Civil Service Jewish Network, that hold networking and social events for members.

The need to retain impartiality

It enclosed further guidance to aid decisions on inviting particular speakers.

The memo stated: “It is important that we retain impartiality across the Civil Service, avoiding any politicised events or groups impacting on the working life of civil servants and distracting from the very excellent work delivered by you in cross-government networks, as well as the work you support within departments.

“It is imperative that these core values are at the forefront of everything we do, so that the reputation of the Civil Service and the relationship between civil servants, ministers and the public is not adversely affected.

“This is particularly important when dealing with individuals and external organisations. We recommend that Networks conduct research on any individual or external organisation to ensure that they are not engaged in political or campaigning activities.”

Checks on potential speakers should be “clearly recorded”, the memo states, and “any identified conflicts must be recorded and invitations must not be issued without obtaining clearance from your departmental Permanent Secretary”.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Employees are encouraged to engage and discuss a range of different topics and perspectives, and all events must be consistent with the civil service code of conduct. We have reminded departments and staff networks of these expectations for events.

“We have recently adopted an increased due diligence process for guest speakers in line with cross-government best practice.”

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