Labour MP pulls out of Oxford Union debate with Katie Hopkins after students call for boycott

Naz Shah says she drew the line 'at those who use racism to dehumanise people'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Friday 10 May 2019 23:22 BST
Labour MP Naz Shah pulled out of the Oxford Union event with Katie Hopkins
Labour MP Naz Shah pulled out of the Oxford Union event with Katie Hopkins (PA)

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A Labour MP pulled out of an Oxford Union debate on ‘no platforming' with TV star Katie Hopkins after students called for a boycott of the debating society.

Naz Shah, shadow women and equalities minister and MP for Bradford West, said she withdrew from the event after she learned that the far-right commentator would be on the panel.

Her decision came after students signed an open letter, organised by campaign group ‘Boycott the Oxford Union’, calling for the society to stop inviting “fascist and racist” speakers.

Protests were held outside the event on Thursday evening – where Ms Hopkins was joined by controversial journalist Toby Young and former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe.

A 21-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of common assault during the protests after liquid, which was believed to be a drink, was thrown and hit a man and a woman.

Genevieve Athis, president of the Oxford Union, said she was “very disappointed” that Ms Shah dropped out of the debate “at such a late stage.”

She told student newspaper Cherwell: “I think it is a great shame that instead of debating Ms Hopkins in our chamber Ms Shah has decided to not participate altogether and I am sure that many of our members will also be deeply disappointed by this.”

Ms Hopkins said on Twitter that it was ironic that the MP pulled out of a no platforming debate.

In a statement sent to The Independent, Ms Shah said: “I believe in free speech, the right to hold contrasting beliefs, to challenge bigoted views through debate and dialogue.

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"However, with everything including freedom of speech, there is always a line to be drawn and I draw the line at those who use racism to dehumanise people, especially those from minority groups.”

She added: “Speaking at the Oxford Union is supposed to be an honour and a privilege. When such platforms become acceptable places for those that try to divide communities and drive hatred towards certain minorities, then such a privilege and honour is not for me."

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