Students from Balliol College will send an open letter to Boris Johnson, condemning, and distancing the College from, his “racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and unlawful behaviour.”

In their letter to the Prime Minister, members of the JCR call upon Balliol College to “break with convention,” by revoking Johnson’s alumni privileges as well as ruling out displaying his portrait on College premises.

The letter and JCR motion stemmed from a petition in the summer to ban Johnson from College grounds, as well as revoking his alumni status. However, after debate, the JCR voted in favour of removing the Prime Minister’s alumni privileges rather than status, which does not explicitly banning him from College grounds, as well as seeking reassurance that a future portrait would not be displayed in College.

The JCR President will present a motion to College fellows next Wednesday in support of the action called upon in the letter.

The letter to Johnson says: “The Balliol community strives to promote equality, diversity and debate, and we the undersigned find you at odds with these values.” “Ample evidence can be found for your disregard of democratic conventions and the rule of law; after attempting to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, you openly disagreed with the Supreme Court’s unanimous finding that such an action was unlawful.”

It goes on to quote Johnson, for evidence of his, “racist, homophobic and misogynistic behaviour.”

The letter quotes Johnson writing in the Spectator in 2002 about the colonial experience of Uganda: “If left to their own devices, the natives would rely on nothing but the instant carbohydrate gratification of the plantain… The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.”

Johnson is further quoted on numerous occasions in the letter, with the authors and signatories suggesting that these are examples of the Prime Minister’s controversial views.

Indeed, the former Balliol student is quoted as implying that, “glamorous women” attended a Labour Party conference because of John Prescott’s “whiff of power” and that “with the fickleness of their sex, they are following the polls.”

Additionally, the letter provides evidence of Johnson’s homophobic language when, in 2001 he commented: “If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog.”

In relation to Johnson’s comments on Tony Blair’s visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the letter says that such comments were “too abhorrent to print.”

It adds: “The JCR strives to make Balliol a more inclusive place, and we openly condemn your intolerance: By calling on College to hold you accountable, we hope to accomplish this.”

The main contributors to the letter told Cherwell that they hope the letter is “able to express the collective opinions of the JCR” though were keen to express that whilst the JCR approved the letter, it does not represent the views of the student population as a whole.

They said that the letter hopes to “distance Balliol from Boris’s actions” and the JCR President stated that if alumni “do things which portray the college in a negative light or do things that portray the student body in a negative light, then individuals should be held to account for that if they are publicly representing the college.”

Moreover, the authors stressed that this was not about Johnson’s politics, and that their focus was on his, “racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and unlawful behaviour.” The President of the JCR further said that “language matters” and that Johnson’s recent actions and words were, “indicative of a general attitude that is very exclusionary.”

Indeed, Johnson, who read Classics at Balliol from 1983 to 1987, has come under fire for his use of inflammatory language.

The decision by the College to revoke Johnson’s alumni privileges will not be made until next week at the earliest, though if a decision was made in favour of the letter, this would, according to its authors, be a “sign of a changing Oxford,” and would show that, as the letter concludes: “There is no place for racism, homophobia or misogyny in our society.”

A physical copy of the letter, which by midday on Wednesday had received over 100 signatures, will be sent to the Prime Minister, and although its authors do not expect a direct response from Johnson, they hoped the letter would publicise the JCR’s wish to distance itself from the behaviour of the former student campaigning to lead the country, and thus to uphold values of tolerance and inclusivity.

The letter comes as 2019 marks the fortieth anniversary of female students at Balliol, as well as the fact that for the first time in its over 850-year history, the College admitted more female fresher students this academic year than males.

The full letter to the Prime Minister can be read below.

“Dear Prime Minister,

The Balliol community strives to promote equality, diversity and debate, and we the undersigned find you at odds with these values. 

Balliol JCR openly condemns your racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and unlawful behaviour. We are calling upon Balliol College to revoke your alumni privileges and to break with convention by ruling out displaying your portrait on College premises, after voting by majority to do so.

Ample evidence can be found for your disregard of democratic conventions and the rule of law; after attempting to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, you openly disagreed with the Supreme Court’s unanimous finding that such an action was unlawful.  

For evidence of racist, homophobic and misogynistic behaviour, we need look no further than your own comments:

  • “Consider Uganda, pearl of Africa, as an example of the British record. The British planted coffee and cotton and tobacco, and they were broadly right. If left to their own devices, the natives would rely on nothing but the instant carbohydrate gratification of the plantain… The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.” (The Spectator, 2002)
  • “The unanimous opinion is that what has been called the ‘Tottymeter’ reading is higher than at any Labour Party conference in living memory,” ‘Hot Totty’ being a sexist term for women. You continued, “Time and again the ‘Tottymeter’ has gone off as a young woman delegate mounts the rostrum… The real reason why Blackpool is buzzing with glamorous women is surely that they scent victory. It is not the great smell of Brut that makes John Prescott attractive. It is the whiff of power. With the fickleness of their sex, they are following the polls.” (Daily Telegraph, 1996)
  • “If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog.” (“Friends, Voters, Countrymen”, 2001)
  • “For 10 years we in the Tory Party have become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing, and so it is with a happy amazement that we watch as the madness engulfs the Labour Party.” (2006 Discussion)
  • When you described Tony Blair’s visit to the DRC, you wrote of “tribal warriors” cheering for the “big white chief”. The rest of the quotation is freely available but too abhorrent to print. (Daily Telegraph, 2002)

This list is far from exhaustive. The JCR strives to make Balliol a more inclusive place, and we openly condemn your intolerance: By calling on College to hold you accountable, we hope to accomplish this.

The Balliol JCR need say no more. There is no place for racism, homophobia or misogyny in our society, and we strongly oppose your behaviour and comments.”