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English Defence League co-founder to be hosted by York student society

Scene of a protest by the English Defence League. Image credit: Channel 4
Scene of a protest by the English Defence League. Image credit: Channel 4
A scene of a protest by the English Defence League. Image credit: Channel 4

A co-founder of the English Defence League will visit the University of York in the next academic term, hosted by an as-of-yet unknown student society.

Tommy Robinson, who co-founded the far-right anti-Islamism organisation in 2009, will speak at the York campus in January 2017. However, Robinson’s host is yet to be revealed.

Yesterday, students Jayh Karia and Luke Rix-Standing, on behalf of Nouse, the oldest student-run newspaper at the University of York, announced on social media that Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known by his pseudonym Tommy Robinson, would speak “about the police state, free speech and liberty in the UK” in mid-January.

Shortly after the event was published, interested students were directed to a second event, this time explicitly hosted by Nouse, by Rix-Standing, the newspaper’s current Editor.

However, yesterday evening, Nouse announced that the event would be postponed and details would emerge closer to the time. Nouse confirmed on social media that Robinson will appear at the university, but his appearance had been planned in conjunction with that of another guest. The Robinson event had been prematurely publicised by an unnamed student. The newspaper wrote on Facebook:

The events were supposed to be announced as a programme and at a later date, however, and someone who is not Nouse staff jumped the gun and posted a description of the event that had not been agreed and does not reflect our view of it. This event post also gave a date that had not been agreed with the Nouse senior Editorial team, coming as it does in the middle of a likely production week. We initially tried to salvage the event, but this has not proved possible.

Approaching midnight, Karia further announced that a new host of the event had been found and that tickets would be available to students at the University of York at midday today. Karia declined to announce the identity of the hosts, leading to widespread speculation as to which society would welcome Robinson to campus.

Tommy Robinson, 34, co-founded the English Defence League in 2009 with his cousin, Kevin Carroll. The EDL is a far-right organisation campaigning against the perceived rise of Islamic religious fundamentalism in England and the erosion of English identity. Its members have accused Muslim communities of failing to respond to or hiding Islamists in Britain and attempting to implement Shari’a law in the country. The group is well-known for its street protests and rallies, many of which have resulted in violence and arrests. Robinson himself has been arrested during EDL activities.

In 2013, Robinson departed the EDL to join the Quilliam Foundation, a think-tank investigating religious counter-extremism, democracy and civil liberties. However, Robinson now works with the UK branch of PEGIDA, another street protest organisation created in Germany. PEGIDA stands for Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West’).

Robinson’s invitation to speak at the university prompted debate between social media over free speech and Robinson’s right to a platform. James Harland, a postgraduate student, wrote:

I am deeply alarmed that you are giving those who incite the sort of violence we witnessed today in Forest Hill a platform.

Another user, Helen Turner, wrote:

Inviting and giving platforms to EDL, BNP leaders to speak at York University? What’s next? Maybe people who believe that women should be raped speaking on the benefits and justifications for sexual assault? 2016 gets more bizarre by the day.

The Yorker has contacted the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) for comment.