Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has labelled the academics refusing to conduct tutorials at Oxford University as a "useless bunch" as he warned "we must not allow this wokeness to happen". 

Downing Street has warned that students whose teaching at Oriel College has been disrupted by protests over a statue of Cecil Rhodes may be liable for compensation.

The Telegraph exclusively revealed how more than 150 lecturers at the university are refusing to conduct tutorials in protest at the college’s decision not to remove the controversial statute.

It comes amid another dispute over a decision to remove the Queen’s portrait at Magdalen College in Oxford due to concerns over its "colonial links".

Members of the Magdalen College Middle Common Room (MCR), which is made up of graduate students, overwhelmingly voted to remove the picture from their common room.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to back Gavin Williamson’s criticism of the students, according to Downing Street, after the Education Secretary branded the move "simply absurd".

He has since faced criticism from the University and College Union (UCU), which said the comments were a "distraction from the disastrous, systemic failings this Government has presided over in higher education".

Barrister Dinah Rose, president of the college, said staff have received "threatening messages" over the controversy, and she defended students’ right to "free speech and political debate".

Conservative MP for Ipswich Tom Hunt raised the issue at business questions, asking: "I know historically there’s been lots of eccentric Left-wing academics at Oxford and Cambridge, but the sheer frequency in which these events are cropping up, will (he) provide time for us to discuss what we can do to prevent the ‘wokification’ of Oxbridge colleges?"

Mr Rees-Mogg responded: "As for Magdalen College, it’s not exactly 1687/88, it’s a few pimply adolescents getting excited and taking down a picture of Her Majesty. It makes Magdalen look pretty wet, but it’s not the end of the world."

He added: "As regards the academics refusing to teach, I’m half tempted to say you should be lucky not to be taught by such a useless bunch, but if they are that feeble, what are you missing and what are they doing there? Why don’t they have any pride in their country, our marvellous history and our success?

"Rhodes is not a black and white figure, perhaps they’re not learned enough to have bothered to look up the history of Rhodes in any detail, which has been written about quite extensively now and as I say, he is a figure of importance and of interest and of enormous generosity to Oxford.

"Do they want to give the money back to the descendants of Cecil Rhodes, or are they intending to keep it to themselves?

"So we must not allow this wokeness to happen, the idea of changing Churchill College, well perhaps we should introduce a Bill to rename Cambridge, Churchill and call it Churchill University and that would be one in the eye for the Lefties."

More than 100 academics at Oxford University are refusing requests from Oriel College to give tutorials to its undergraduates following its decision not to remove a statue of the British imperialist.

They have also pledged not to assist Oriel College with its outreach work and admissions interviews, and they will refuse to attend or speak at talks, seminars, and conferences sponsored by the college.

Oxford students could be in line for compensation, says Downing St

Downing Street has warned that Oxford University students whose teaching has been disrupted by protests over a statue of Cecil Rhodes may be liable for compensation.

A No 10 spokesman said universities had a duty to provide good-quality teaching and that the Government would expect "appropriate action" to be taken if that was disrupted.

"Students rightly expect to get a good deal for their investment in higher education and we would expect universities to take appropriate action should any student be seriously affected by these actions which could include compensation," the spokesman said.

"We fully believe in protecting academic freedom but universities have a duty to maintain access to good-quality tuition as a priority especially given the disruption the pandemic has caused students already."

Oxford should place ‘sorry’ sign over neck of Rhodes, says academic

An Oxford college should place a sign saying "Sorry" around the neck of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a senior academic has suggested in the latest row over the controversial monument.

It comes after Oriel College was accused of "institutional racism" last month after its governing body said it would not seek to move the statue of Rhodes from its position outside the building.

Robert Gildea, professor emeritus of modern history at Oxford and one of the signatories of the petition, said the boycott is a way of "putting pressure" on the college after many alternatives had failed.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: "One of the options offered by the commission was to retain and contextualise, so if the college put up a notice explaining who Cecil Rhodes was that would be fine.

"If the college put a placard around his neck at lunchtime today saying ‘Sorry’ that would also be fine."

Prof Gildea added that sculptor Antony Gormley’s suggestion that the statue be turned round to face the wall is also a "very interesting idea".

A statement from the boycott organisers said: "Faced with Oriel’s stubborn attachment to a statue that glorifies colonialism and the wealth it produced for the college, we feel we have no choice but to withdraw all discretionary work and goodwill collaborations."

It added: "The collegiate university can only effectively and credibly work to eradicate racism and address the ongoing effects of colonialism today if all the colleges do so.

"Oriel College’s decision not to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes undermines us all."

Danny Dorling, professor of geography at Oxford who is another of the signatories, said: "Having your university associated with a statue of a racist is deeply upsetting and puts a smear on the whole university."

But the academics have been criticised by Lord Wharton, chairman of the Office for Students (OfS), who said it would be "utterly unacceptable" if students were left disadvantaged.

He said: "Oriel College took a decision to retain the Rhodes statue after carefully considering all of the evidence.

"It would be utterly unacceptable if any ‘boycott’ of Oriel led to students, or prospective students, at the college being disadvantaged in any way."