03/07/2013 11:48 BST | Updated 08/07/2013 08:17 BST

EDL's Tommy Robinson Asked To Speak At Oxford Union

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Joint EDL leader Tommy Robinson walks along the Mall on June 29, 2013 in London, England. The leaders of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson and co-leader Kevin Carroll planned to march from Hyde Park to Woolwich to raise money for a young girl fighting against neuroblastoma, but were arrested outside Aldgate East Tube Station. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Oxford University's debating society has invited controversial EDL leader Tommy Robinson to debate on nationalism amid concerns over "endangering" students.

A member of the Oxford Union tweeted Robinson saying the society would "love" to host him as a speaker, but the invitation has been met with criticism, including from the president of the student union.

Simon Blackaby, one of the prestigious society's committee members and the instigator of the invitation, received a reply from Robinson asking to swap numbers.

Blackaby later tweeted: "I like to hear different views in a debate. If everyone thought the same the debate would be quite boring. We believe in free speech and an open and interesting debate and therefore welcome a variety of different views."

The president of the Union Parit Wacharasindhu defended the invite but admitted there were some security concerns. "The society is founded on the principle of free speech," he said. "It provides a neutral arena for political views for as they are contested.

"There will be security concerns - an issue raised by other parties - which need to be resolved. The debate format ensures his views are extensively questioned and scrutinised.

"No speakers are ever given a platform nor are their views ever endorsed by the society or any of the individuals in it."

The National Union of Students warned the presence of Robinson could "endanger" students.

"The Oxford Union is in not a students’ union and is in no way affiliated with NUS," a union spokesperson said. "NUS has a long-standing policy of providing no platform to speak at our events to representatives of the EDL and non-one from NUS would share a platform with them.

"Tommy Robinson’s views are well-known and abhorrent so providing a platform for them adds nothing to the debate and risks endangering students."

Tom Rutland, president of Oxford's student union - a separate entity from the debating union - told HuffPost UK it was a "pointless stunt".

"The welfare of students is our utmost priority. Fascist speakers who spread hate and threats that extend to members of our student body, and often bring with them a rally of violent and dangerous thugs, are clearly a threat to student safety.

"There is no value in inviting or hosting hate speakers in the name of ‘free speech’ when they themselves do not believe in free speech nor a free society, and stand on a platform of oppressing people because of their race, religion, gender or sexuality. The EDL are simply the newest torchbearers of the dying but dangerous fascist movement in the UK.

"There is a place for ‘challenging views’ but no-one is going to go into the debate agreeing with Robinson, and no-one will come out supporting him.

"Similarly, though I do not deny the persuasive talents of our students, I very much doubt anyone will persuade this nasty and irrational individual of the absurdity of his position, rendering the entire stunt rather pointless."

Unite Against Fascism's joint secretary Weyman Bennett told student paper Cherwell: "I oppose the invitation to Tommy Robinson and will call a peaceful demonstration."

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Lennon, was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of obstructing officers in East London.

The EDL was founded in 2009 as a street protest movement. It describes itself as a "human rights organization" that "protests against radical Islam's encroachment into the lives of non-Muslims".

In January this year, Oxford Union did revoke an invitation it had extended to Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, to debate the topic: "This house would be glad to have gay parents".

The society said the invitation wasn't authorised by senior members and that "disciplinary action" would be taken against the junior member responsible. The Union said it "does not wet to be associated with BNP in any way whatsoever" and that it "strongly disagree(s) with their views."

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