Tommy Robinson, co-founder and current leader of the English Defence League, has been invited to debate at Oxford Union.
A current member of the Union, Simon Blackaby, tweeted Robinson to ask him if he would participate in a debate on the issue of nationalism.
Robinson responded to the tweet, asking to exchange numbers. Nonetheless, Blackaby, despite being a member of the Union, is not authorised to decide who may or may not speak at the Union.
The invitation has already drawn criticism from pressure groups.
The joint national secretary of Unite Against Fascism (UAF), Weyman Bennett, strongly condemned the invitation by a member of Oxford Union.
“They should remove the invitation, and they should apologise for issuing an invitation in the first place,” he said of the decision. “To give Tommy Robinson a respectable position to speak is to give respectability to his ideas.”
The president of Oxford Union, Parit Wacharasindhu, defended the Union’s decision to invite Robinson: “The Oxford Union is a debating society founded on the principle of free speech. It provides a neutral arena where political views can be aired so long as they are contested. No speakers are ever given a platform nor are their views ever endorsed by the society or any of the individuals in it.”
He added: “Mr Robinson was thought of as a potential speaker for a debate on nationalism for which he is deemed to be relevant and the format of which ensures his views are extensively questioned and scrutinised. Understandably, there are security concerns – an issue raised by both parties – which need to be resolved before we can consider sending through a formal invitation letter.”
Bennett confirmed that, should Robinson accept his invitation to speak, UAF had every intention to stage a peaceful demonstration.
The EDL was founded in 2009 and describes itself as a ‘human rights organisation’.
Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Lennon, was one of the founding members of the EDL and has led the organisation since 2009. He was recently arrested while on what he claimed was a charity walk near the scene of the Woolwich terror attack.
This is not the first time Oxford Union has invited criticism over its choice of speakers. In 2007 the decision to invite Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, and David Irving, a historian who has denied the existence of the Holocaust, erupted into protests outside the Union, which later disrupted the talk itself.