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Toby Young quits role at university regulator following criticism of past controversial comments

Toby Young Credit: PA

Toby Young has announced he is standing down from the universities regulator saying his appointment has "become a distraction", following criticism of controversial comments he made in the past.

The free school entrepreneur proved a controversial pick to sit on the board of the Government's new university regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), with critics querying whether he has the expertise for the job and pointing to remarks he made in the past on social media, including about women's breasts.

Mr Young was named on January 1, along with five others, by the Department of Education as the final six people to join the 15-strong board of the OfS.

Following his departure announcement, the journalist turned educationalist apologised "unreservedly" for the string of controversial comments he had made on social media in recent years.

Writing in The Spectator, Mr Young said: "The caricature drawn of me in the last seven days, particularly on social media, has been unrecognisable to anyone who knows me.

"I am a passionate supporter of inclusion and helping the most disadvantaged, as I hope my track record of setting up and supporting new schools demonstrates.

"But some of the things I said before I got involved in education, when I was a journalistic provocateur, were either ill-judged or just plain wrong - and I unreservedly apologise."

A petition calling for the 54-year-old to be sacked from the board of the OfS had gathered more than 220,000 signatures.

Mr Young's departure comes just one day after ministers were forced to defend his appointment in the Commons following backlash from MPs, including prominent Tories.

One such MP who defended Mr Young was Universities Minister Jo Johnson, who remained firm in his support of Mr Young on Tuesday.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson has defended Mr Young's appointment. Credit: PA

Mr Johnson, who is Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's brother, dismissed Mr Young's detractors as "armchair critics".

He wrote on Twitter: "Toby Young's track record setting up & supporting free schools speaks for itself.

"His decision to stand down from the OfS board and repeat unreserved apologies for inappropriate past remarks reflects his character better than the one-sided caricature from his armchair critics."

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In an interview on Sunday, Theresa May was forced to address criticism about Mr Young's appointment, saying she had been unaware of the crude and sexist comments he had previously made.

Dawn Butler MP, shadow minister for women and equalities, said Mr Young should have been "removed from his post" by the Prime Minister, rather than him standing down.

"The Toby Young saga has further exposed Theresa May's total lack of judgement in appointing him and her weakness in refusing to sack him," Ms Butler said.

"She should have removed him from his post, not personally backed him at the weekend and sent a minister out to defend him in Parliament yesterday."

Theresa May defended Mr Young's appointment on Sunday. Credit: PA

Education select committee chairman and Conservative MP Robert Halfon said Mr Young had "done the honourable thing" in quitting.

While shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: "The Toby Young saga has cast great doubt on the judgement of the PM, who failed to sack him in the first place."