Theresa May's anti-extremism plan will protect free speech, says Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid, the business secretary, has insisted that freedom of speech will be protected in the government’s plans to give Ofcom more powers to tackle extremism, claiming that a disagreement between him and Theresa May over the issue of pre-broadcast censorship was “perfectly normal”.
The Guardian revealed on Thursday how Javid, as culture secretary, had written to May, the home secretary, in March to warn against the home office’s plans to give the broadcasting regulator the power to vet programmes before they were broadcast.
But Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the leak had generated “a bit of overexcitement” and that it was normal for cabinet colleagues to argue about policy.
“Let’s recognise here Theresa May has a very difficult job to do with the challenges that she faces,” he said. “She’s been an outstanding home secretary, and extremism is one of the biggest things in her in-tray. So the whole government, including me, will work with her in dealing with those challenges.”
Javid would not disclose the outcome of the cabinet debate about Ofcom’s new role tackling extremism. But he said the resulting plan would be well-balanced and that “at its heart will be the protection of freedom of speech”.
And plans to “strengthen the role of Ofcom to take action against channels which broadcast extremist content” are expected to be included in Wednesday’s Queen’s speech, according to Downing Street.
Javid’s letter to May, written on 12 March, revealed how he was fighting her on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, arguing that her proposals would involve “a fundamental shift in the way UK broadcasting is regulated” and that this would turn Ofcom into a censor.
On Friday, after the publication of the Guardian story, David Cameron signalled that he sided with May, although he stopped short of confirming that the censorship plan was still on the agenda.
Javid also announced that the government would not try to revive incendiary plans examined by the coalition to make it easier for firms to sack employees.
In a 2012 report, the businessman Adrian Beecroft said companies should be allowed to dismiss staff without having to give a reason, provided they paid compensation. Beecroft argued this would stimulate the economy by making firms more willing to recruit.
But the Liberal Democrats, who named the proposal “fire at will”, successfully blocked the idea to the fury of the Tory right.
In an interview soon after the election, Javid left open the possibility that the Beecroft report could be be resurrected. But on Sunday he firmly ruled this out, saying: “I won’t be looking at that again.”