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Minister calls for action against students after Amber Rudd ‘no-platformed’ at Oxford event

Former home secretary hits out at ‘rude’ and ‘badly judged’ decision to cancel her talk

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Friday 06 March 2020 14:36 GMT
Amber Rudd calls Diane Abbott 'coloured woman' when explaining abuse women get in politics

The education secretary has called for action against students after former home secretary Amber Rudd was “no-platformed” at an Oxford University event.

Students cancelled the event just 30 minutes before the former Conservative minister was due to speak about women in politics.

Ms Rudd had been scheduled to speak at the UN Women Oxford student society’s event for International Women’s Day on Thursday, but it was called off by the committee.

It came after pressure from students who criticised the former Conservative minister’s role in the Windrush scandal and other government policies which affected ethnic minority communities.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has described the decision as “unacceptable” and he has called on the University of Oxford to take “robust action” to ensure free speech is defended.

Following the row, UN Women UK distanced itself from the Oxford group.

Ms Rudd, a former minister for women and equalities, urged students to “stop hiding” after she said the decision to “no-platform” her was “badly judged” and “rude”.

On Thursday evening, UN Women Oxford posted on its Facebook page: “Following a majority vote in committee, tonight’s event with speaker Amber Rudd has been cancelled.

“We’re deeply sorry for all and any hurt caused to our members and other women and non-binary people in Oxford over this event.”

The student society had originally invited Ms Rudd to speak about her experience of being a woman in parliament and they promised an “honest and frank discussion” about the impact of her policies.

But it is understood that the last-minute decision to cancel the event was taken after students raised concerns about the former home secretary’s stance on race and immigration.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Oxford student Nadia Awad criticised the decision to invite Ms Rudd to the event.

She wrote: “I don’t see the benefits of a women’s organisation hosting someone who’s contributed to policies which harm the same people you claim to support.”

Among her concerns, Ms Awad highlighted Ms Rudd’s reference to Labour’s Diane Abbott as a “coloured” woman during a radio interview and her involvement in the Windrush scandal.

“In the context of the painful lack of diversity in Oxford, and the wider atmosphere of the continued hostile environment, the last thing we need is Amber Rudd being hailed as a feminist advocate in our institution,” Ms Award wrote in an article for student website Cherwell.

Members of the Oxford African and Caribbean Society (ACS) also expressed “public disapproval” at the society’s decision to invite a “controversial” speaker.

But the Oxford ACS said it did not call for the event to be cancelled.

It comes on the same week that an Oxford professor had her invitation to a conference withdrawn.

Selina Todd has said she was no-platformed by the Oxford International Women’s Festival due to pressure from trans activists.

On the events, Mr Williamson said: “For two speakers to have been no-platformed at Oxford within a week is unacceptable. It is not enough to adopt free speech codes if they are not enforced.

“I expect the University of Oxford to take robust action over these incidents – and if universities are not prepared to defend free speech, the government will.”

Ms Rudd, who tweeted about the cancellation of the event, has received cross-party support.

Tom Watson, former Labour deputy leader, tweeted: “If you’re trying to silence Amber Rudd you really are being anti-democratic.”

Dr Sarah Wollaston, former Conservative and Liberal Democrat MP, tweeted: “No platforming of Amber Rudd by Oxford is absurd and worrying. Why are universities allowing ideological fringes to crush freedom of speech in our centres of excellence?”

A statement from Oxford University said: “The University of Oxford strongly disapproves of the decision by the UNWomen Oxford UK Society to disinvite Amber Rudd after she had been invited to speak at a student event.

“Amber Rudd had stated that she was prepared to discuss issues arising from her time in the Home Office and she should have been given the opportunity to do so.

“The university is strongly committed to freedom of speech and opposes no-platforming. We encourage our students to debate and engage with a range of views, and to treat others with the courtesy and dignity that they would expect themselves.

“We will be making the university’s position and feelings very clear to the event organisers and taking necessary steps to ensure that this cannot be repeated.”

The Independent has contacted the UN Women Oxford Student Society for comment.

UN Women UK has suspended the society’s permission to use its name and that it had asked its contact there not to proceed with Ms Rudd’s invitation to speak due to “concerned comments” from students and possible risks raised on the society’s Facebook page.

A spokesperson said: ”We understand that regretfully the invitation went ahead and Ms Rudd was ‘no-platformed’.

“Due to non-compliance around our brand naming which has caused confusion, as well as the communication around this event, we have suspended any permission for the society to use our name and asked for no further association to be made with us.”

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