Oxford Union cancels EDL founder invitation due to 'security' costs

The group's leader Tommy Robinson will no longer speak at the world-famous debating society

The Oxford Union has cancelled its invitation to English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, citing security concerns. 

In a letter seen by BBC News, Oxford Union President Parit Wacharasindhu told Mr Robinson the world famous debating society could not afford the security costs of receiving him.

"Unfortunately, as we are a student society running on a budget based on student membership, we will be unable to cover the significant security costs that would be required to host you as a speaker," he wrote.

Mr Robinson told BBC News that the Union had balked on their invitation due to "threats of violence" and said the society wanted "a ring of steel" but he did not give further details.

"The Oxford Union is one of the most historical and famous Oxford University places for debate. They should be upholding that debate," he added.

The Union, whose former presidents include Boris Johnson and Benazir Bhutto, has a reputation for inviting controversial speakers. Earlier this year it cancelled an invitation to BNP leader Nick Griffin after criticism from anti-fascist protesters, while in 2007 students protested outside the premises against the appearance of Holocaust denier David Irving.

Oxford University Student Union President Tom Rutland welcomed the decision: "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 said.

He added: "Community leaders within the city had expressed their sadness and dismay to us that this nasty individual had been invited. It should never have happened."

Oxford Union member Joe Miles said he was 'relieved' the society had dropped Robinson from the debate, but disappointed it had "missed an opportunity to publicly embarrass the EDL".

"The EDL continues to grow in popularity, a fact that causes much deserved consternation. However, simply dismissing their views out of hand will not stem this tide. The only way to stop the EDL is to bring them out in the open and hold their unacceptable views against them."

Other members were less impressed, among them Ollie Capehorn: "Surely the Oxford Union would always have known that inviting a prolific thug would necessitate increased security, so this news appears to me to be a front for a decision based on other grounds," he said.

"I think that the Union has a responsibility to make public their criteria of invitation and withdrawal, if they can continue to boast to be the last bastion of free speech in the Western world," he added.

The Oxford Union had drawn criticism after inviting Mr Robinson to a debate on nationalism via Twitter in July 2013.

Oxford Union committee member Simon Blackaby tweeted: "@edltrobinson the @OxfordUnion would love to host you as a speaker. Do you have an email address so that a formal invitation can be sent?"

At the time Mr Wacharasindhu defended the decision: "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," he said.

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