LONDON: The UK government has criticised graduate students at the University of Oxford who removed a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, claiming it represented a colonial past that many found offensive.
The move comes as students across the country have played a leading role in protests against historical figures with links to the British empire or slavery. The queen "has become the latest victim of cancel culture", or ostracism of those whose opinions are deemed unacceptable, the right-leaning Daily Telegraph wrote on Wednesday.
Graduate students at Magdalen College took down the colourised print of the queen from their recreation room after a majority vote, because "for some students, depictions of the monarch and the British monarchy represent recent colonial history", The Times reported.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson reacted angrily on Tuesday night, calling the move "simply absurd". "She is the head of state and a symbol of what is best about the UK," he tweeted.
Hanging portraits of the queen is not customary in state educational institutions, but some colleges at Cambridge and Oxford universities have portraits on display. "It was decided that the room should be a welcoming, neutral place for all members, regardless of background, demographic, or views," said Matthew Katzman, head of the Middle Common Room committee at Magdalen.
"Freedom of speech allows even intelligent people to be offensive and obnoxiously ignorant," Oxford University Chancellor Chris Patten was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying of the decision.
The student protest comes as the queen is due to celebrate her 70th jubilee next year. BBC TV presenter Richard Madeley asked: "How can this make any sense when this queen has presided over the dismantling of what was left of empire?"
Another Oxford college, Oriel, last month reversed its decision to remove a controversial statue of the 19th-century colonialist Cecil Rhodes -- a major donor. That U-turn sparked widespread anger. British sculptor Antony Gormley suggested to The Financial Times that the statue should instead be turned round to face the wall in shame.