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Tommy Robinson Talk On Free Speech At Oxford Brookes University Cancelled Over Protest Fears

Police warned the event posed too great a risk of 'public disorder'.

08/02/2017 17:10 GMT | Updated 09/02/2017 08:06 GMT

A talk by controversial English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson about free speech at UK universities has been cancelled after hundreds of students planned to protest the event. 

Robinson, who now heads up Pegida UK, had been invited to speak at Oxford Brookes University by an anti-extremism student group. 

But the university’s student union refused to approve the event after police warned it posed too great a risk of “public disorder”.

Matthew Lloyd via Getty Images
A speech by EDL founder Tommy Robinson has been cancelled over protest fears 

Almost 130 students had planned to demonstrate outside of Robinson’s speech, accusing him of spreading “fascism and white supremacy”. A further 200 had registered their interest in the protest. 

Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lonnon, founded far-right street protest group the EDL and now heads Pegida UK, which fights against the “Islamisation” of the West. 

Last month, he announced plans to for an EDL march in Bristol in memory of a man who died in jail after being sentenced for a bacon attack on a mosque.  

A petition launched by the protesters claimed: “Regardless of his official departure from the EDL in 2013, Robinson has built his career on Islamophobic, racist speech and violence. 

“We believe that allowing him a platform in this city will promote and dignify such hate speech, as well as fear and violence against communities in our city.” 

The student union, who liaised with the university and Thames Valley Police on the issue, said it could not approve the speech after assessing the “potential impact”. 

Chief executive David Whittingham said: “It was identified that the event posed a risk of public disorder, which the Union did not believe it could effectively mitigate. 

“Whilst Brookes Union believes strongly in the principle of freedom of speech, the safety and security of our students is our primary concern.” 

Robinson, who claims he has been banned from speaking at four universities in the past 12 months, has slammed the police and university for “surrendering free speech to a load of hippy morons”.  

Pierre Marshall
Hundreds of students at Oxford Brookes had planned to protest the event 

“The message that sends is, if people don’t like something, go and smash the place up and you will stop it,” the 34-year-old told the Huffington Post UK. 

“What people need to understand is that this tactic is what resulted in Brexit, it is what resulted in Donald Trump. It is what will result in the continued movement to the right,” Robinson added. 

“If I am so stupid, as they all keep saying, and my thoughts are wrong, come and expose them.” 

Some Oxford Brookes students have also expressed their disappointment at the union’s decision. 

Harvir Dhillon, who invited Robinson to speak on campus as president of the union’s Quilliam society, said he was “annoyed” at the missed opportunity. 

The liberal organisation attempts to combat extremism through open dialogue. 

“I invited him to allow him to come on campus and express a viewpoint - perhaps one that people may find disagreeable. Indeed something I might find disagreeable,” Dhillon said.  

Anthony Devlin/PA Archive
Organisers say Robinson had been invited to campus so students could debate his views 

“But I wanted the platform to be given to him so that also my fellow students could challenge him on anything they differed in opinion on.”

Fellow student Michael Agius told protestors on Facebook that they should have supported the event. 

“Instead of trying to persuade the masses that this man is full of bull, you get to save yourselves the trouble by having him display it himself,” he wrote.

“Your end goal of this is to have a white supremacist be shown as a white supremacist; that he be condemned for his words. Fair enough.

“Let the masses hear them, for, as you claim, they will surely condemn them as you do,” he added.  

The decision to block Robinson comes less than a week after violent protests broke out at American university UC Berkeley over the planned appearance of alt-right journalist Milo Yiannopoulos. 

A small group of protestors toppled lamp poles, started fires and hurled objects at police officers to protest the Breitbart editor’s appearance on campus. 

The Brit, who argues rape culture is a myth and transgender people are mentally ill, had been invited to give a speech about cultural appropriation.