The Oxford Union has invited Tommy Robinson, the English Defence League leader branded a “fascist” by opponents, to a nationalism debate at the society in Michaelmas.
Unite Against Fascism Joint Secretary Weyman Bennett has said that the organisation, which has campaigned against the EDL since its inception, “opposes the invitation to Tommy Robinson and will call a peaceful demonstration”.
Secretary’s Committee member Simon Blackaby, of St John’s College, tweeted Robinson saying “the Oxford Union would love to host you as a speaker” and requested an email address to send a formal invitation to. Robinson tweeted back asking Blackaby to “[direct message] me your number”.
Union President Parit Wacharasindhu confirmed the invite was genuine and defended the decision, saying that the society was “founded on the principle of free speech. It provides a neutral arena where political views can be aired so long as they are contested”.
However he said that there would be “security concerns – an issue raised by both parties – which need to be resolved” before a formal invitation letter could be sent.
The EDL was founded in 2009 as a street protest movement. The group describes itself as a “human rights organisation” that “protests against radical Islan’s encroachement into the lives of non-Muslims.”
Wacharasindhu also stated that the debate format “ensures his views are extensively questioned and scrutinised” and denied claims that the Union had affiliated itself with the EDL in any way.
“No speakers are ever given a platform nor are their views ever endorsed by the society or any of the individuals in it”, he said.
In January the Union revoked an invitation it had extended to Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, to debate the motion ‘This house would be glad to have gay parents’.
The society later claimed that the invitation had not been authorised by senior members and said it would take “disciplinary action” against the junior member responsible. The Union said that it “does not wish to be associated with the BNP in any way whatsoever” and that it “strongly disagree[s] with their views.”
Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Lennon, was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of obstructing officers in east London.
Robinson and his co-leader Kevin Carroll were staging what they claimed was a charity walk to Woolwich, the scene of a gruesome terror attack last month. However the police pressed the EDL to take an alternative route that avoided the East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets, which they refused.
Blackaby did not respond to requests for comment.