Anti-Brexit MEP dropped from debate for criticising Tory MP calls on Oxford vice-chancellor to defend free speech

'University should not accept this kind of behaviour lightly'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 19 February 2019 14:03
Anti-Brexit MEP dropped from debate at Oxford after criticising Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski

A Liberal Democrat MEP has called on the University of Oxford’s vice-chancellor to defend free speech on campus after she was dropped from a Brexit debate organised by students.

Catherine Bearder has written to the boss of the institution after her invitation to speak on a panel was cancelled following a tweet in which she criticised a Tory MP received “negative attention”.

Ms Bearder had been booked to speak at an event, organised by the Oxford University Polish Society, with Brexiteer Daniel Kawczynski but she was uninvited with less than 24 hours to go.

The decision came after the anti-Brexit MEP sent a tweet just before saying she would try “to put the little unicorns Daniel lets free every now and then back in their stables” during the debate.

In a letter to Louise Richardson, Ms Bearder wrote that she found it “totally unacceptable” that a participant would be dropped from a Brexit debate at the university over a tweet.

She wrote: “Oxford University has a proud and world renowned tradition of free speech and should not accept this kind of behaviour, which looks like censorship on campus, lightly.”

Ms Bearder urged the vice-chancellor to speak to the society and tell them that they must adhere to new guidance on “defending free speech” and ensuring campuses remain a forum for open debate.

A University of Oxford spokesperson said: “The university played no role in this decision.

“The university is strongly committed to freedom of speech and we encourage our students to debate and engage with a range of views.”

A former Lib Dem councillor for Islington and Remainer, Stefan Kasprzak, was asked to stand in on the panel, which was moderated by Marek Matraszek, chairman of a public affairs agency.

A spokesperson for the Oxford University Polish Society, which organised the event at the university’s examination schools, has denied charges of “stifling free speech” and “censorship”.

But the society admitted that an “online exchange” from Ms Bearder had caused concerns that the panel debate would be “overshadowed” by issues specific to internal British political controversies.

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