Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder will be writing to the Vice-Chancellor to protest her ‘disinvitation’ from the Congress of Polish Student Societies, which is being hosted by Oxford University Polish Society this weekend.
Bearder was set to debate prominent Brexiter MP Daniel Kawczynski on the impacts of Brexit on European countries, but was disinvited from the event after a tweet of hers garnered “negative attention”, according to an email chain seen by Cherwell.
The Congress takes place annually and attracts students from 30 university Polish societies nationwide.
Bearder originally tweeted: “”I’m debating Daniel Kawczynski MP in Oxford this Saturday in front of Polish university students studying in the UK. When I say debating, I mean trying to put the little unicorns Daniel lets free every now and then back in their stables.”
A spokesperson for Bearder told Cherwell that the disinvitation was “most unusual and rare, even by the times we live in.”
They said: “In my opinion, this has got Daniel Kawczynski MP written all over it. He and his lobbyist friend Marek Matraszek from CEC Government Relations who helps organise the Congress share pro-Brexit views together on Twitter regularly.
“They clearly weren’t prepared to face Catherine and be challenged on their views. It’s shocking and looks like censorship on campus.”
President of the Oxford Lib Dems told Cherwell: “Having been alerted to the fact that Catherine Bearder MEP was uninvited to debate Daniel Kawczynski MP amidst allegations that she had pulled out when this was not the case, we are concerned that that the Congress of Polish Student Societies has seemed to cause a great deal of confusion close to the event resulting in attendees being unable to access out on a pro-Remain counter to Daniel’s views, which are crucial in a debate about the effects of Brexit regardless of what one’s views are. We hope the Congress soon clarifies why this occurs.”
Oxford University Polish Society told Cherwell: “We decided to change one of guest speakers – Mrs Catherine Bearder – collectively, as the Conference’s organising committee. An online exchange, primarily concerned with issues irrelevant to the Polish student community in the UK, caused concerns that the panel debate would be overshadowed by issues specific to internal British political controversies, however topical.
“We strongly deny the charges of stifling free speech, let alone censorship. We are deeply committed to free speech and consider it to be an important part of our identity as a student body.
“In organising the conference, we are doing our utmost to ensure that the conditions for free debate are ensured and that a range of views are duly represented. We therefore invited Mr Stefan Kasprzyk, a Liberal Democrat and a vocal supporter of the Remain campaign, to represent views that are opposed to Mr Kawczynski’s.
“We therefore consider the charges to be unfounded. While we regret Mrs Catherine Bearder tweeted a private e-mail exchange with a member of our team, we would like to apologise to her for the manner in which we communicated the change of arrangements to her, and any upset or embarrassment caused. The Congress organisers consider the matter closed.”
The Congress organisers had raised Bearder’s Twitter activity as a cause of concern prior to her invitation.
In an email to Bearder they wrote: “Yesterday we’ve been asked about the tweets Catherine posted about the debate. We appreciate that Catherine feels strongly about people who advocate for Brexit and this is the reason why we invited her to take part in the debate.
“However, I’d like to make it clear that the debate will be mainly about the effects of Brexit on European (and, of course, especially Polish) relations; and less so on the domestic side of things. We are looking forward to a high-quality debate with compelling arguments. We are very excited to be hosting both Catherine and Daniel, and as it is a student conference aimed at networking, we would like it to run in a friendly, positive atmosphere.”
Daniel Kawczynski MP has been contacted for comment.