Michael Gove has been criticised for a joke he made about Black Lives Matter and the Ku Klux Klan in a poorly received after-dinner speech last week.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Society of Legal Scholars (SLS) last Wednesday, the former lord chancellor and leading Brexit campaigner reportedly told the audience: "I feel rather like the grand wizard of the KKK giving an address to the AGM of Black Lives Matter."
BuzzFeed News has spoken to two lawyers who were at the dinner who independently confirmed Gove's words, and both said the joke went down very poorly at the event.
Dr Ruvi Ziegler said the joke was greeted by an "awkward silence", followed by heckling. "His whole presence, giving a speech not just having taken a position in the referendum, but also his derision of experts – that was the precursor to the speech," said Ziegler.
"He was introduced by next year’s SLS president [Imelda Maher], and she said half-jokingly it was ironic she was introducing him, as an EU professor from Ireland, formerly a migrant, and so on – the whole context was not a favourable one."
Ziegler added: "Then he made this joke. There wasn’t booing or anything, but there was this awkward silence. If you compare it to what you normally expect from conferences, there was no excitement when he finished – there was just polite clapping."
Ziegler also said Gove was heckled when trying to defend claims he made during the referendum campaign about how much the European Union cost the UK each week.
Gove "started defending the £350 million claim, and then there was a degree of heckling, which was not really well-placed but some people had had enough," said Ziegler.
Professor Hector MacQueen, from Edinburgh University's law school, also confirmed that Gove told the Black Lives Matter joke, and told BuzzFeed News it was greeted by a "sharp intake of hostile breath".
One member of the SLS wrote to the society president to complain about Gove's joke, prompting the society to release a statement distancing itself from the former lord chancellor's comments.
"The speaker at the annual conference dinner of the Society of Legal Scholars (SLS) in Oxford on Wednesday September 7 was the Right Honourable Michael Gove MP," read the statement.
"The invitation on behalf of the SLS was made and accepted when he was minister of justice and Lord Chancellor (and months before the EU referendum campaigns had begun).
"In the course of his speech, aware that his academic audience might be largely hostile given his position on Brexit, Mr Gove drew an analogy, the gist of which has since been tweeted.
"The Society wishes to distance itself clearly and unequivocally from this comment and sincerely regrets that it was made and caused offence."
BuzzFeed News was unable to reach Gove by the time of publication.
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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