The Oxford Union has withdrawn a speaker invitation extended to EDL leader Tommy Robinson.
In an email sent to the EDL on Monday, Union President Parit Wacharasindhu stated that the society would be “unable to cover the significant security costs that would be required to host you as speaker”.
Robinson (born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) had been controversially approached in June about the possibility of attending a Union debate on nationalism.
Wacharasindhu defended the move at the time, saying that the Oxford Union was a society founded on the principle of free speech and that it did not necessarily endorse the views of the people it invited. He maintained that worries over security and expense alone were responsible for the invitation’s removal:
“The Oxford Union firmly defends the basic principles of free speech and debate, but if and only if we can guarantee the safety of our members, our guest speakers and the Oxford community.
“As we stated publicly in July, the Oxford Union would only be able to issue a formal invitation to Mr Robinson to address us at our debate on patriotism if security concerns were resolved.”
Robinson, however, criticised the Union’s decision as a “bow to threats of violence”, after publicising the email on his twitter feed.
OUSU President Tom Rutland welcomed the decision, saying, “The EDL are simply the newest torchbearers of the dying but dangerous fascist movement in the UK and they have no place in our University nor our city
“There is no value in inviting or hosting hate speakers in the name of ‘free speech’ when they themselves do not believe in free speech nor a free society, and stand on a platform of oppressing people because of their race, religion, gender or sexuality. “
He was joined by Oxford members of the Unite Against Fascism organisation, which has repeatedly clashed with the EDL in recent years.
UAF member and Wadham grad student Nick Evans commented: “It is a disgrace that he should have been invited at all in the first place. The invitation was issued at the same time that the EDL were threatening to march in Oxford, issuing personal threats to anti-fascist trade unionists in the city, threatening to attack a city mosque, and to break up a local UAF meeting. The Oxford Union showed complete disregard for the other people living in this city, and for the wider ramifications of their actions.”
Evans further condemned previous invitations to figures such as BNP leader Nick Griffin and author Scott Lively, saying they amounted to, “a pattern of behaviour by the Oxford Union”
Robinson was arrested at an EDL march last Saturday and charged with not adhering to the conditions of the march and inciting others to do the same. The Union is yet to clarify whether this played a part in the decision to withdraw his invitation.
The debate he was invited to is to be held on the 14th of November, with the motion “This House is proud to be patriotic”.