Update 23/01/2017: Robinson posted a video on Twitter suggesting his event was cancelled, and it is unclear if it went ahead as planned. He also claims to be booked in to speak at two more universities in the coming months.
The controversial former leader of the English Defence League (EDL) still appears to be due to speak at the University of York on 19 January after considerable media attention at the end of 2016.
It was originally thought that Nouse, the student media outlet at the university was running the event, but one of their editors told Student Rights “our event went live much earlier than planned so we postponed it online, whereupon our contact with Mr Robinson took the event elsewhere.”
Now it seems that the event is being run by an organisation called York Talks, a subsidiary of York Vision, the student newspaper.
On 14 December, the York Student Socialist Society told the Huffington Post its members had bought “at least 50” of the tickets to protest Robinson’s presence at the university, hoping that he would be left speaking to an empty room.
The event is now described as “sold out” on the event page, and it is unclear how many tickets have been purchased by students planning not to attend.
Robinson led the EDL during the height of its influence, but left the group in a process facilitated by the counter-extremist Quilliam Foundation in 2013.
He now leads Pegida UK, a movement modelled on the German street protest group ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West’. In February 2016, its first rally in Birmingham attracted around 200 people.
Most seriously, in 2011 Robinson gave a notorious speech apparently threatening violence against Britain’s entire Muslim community, in which he shouted:
“Every single Muslim watching this video on YouTube, on 7/7 you got away with killing and maiming British citizens…you had better understand that we have built a network from one end of the country to the other end…and the Islamic community will feel the full force of the English Defense League if we see any of our British citizens killed, maimed, or hurt on British soil ever again.”
Despite claiming to have changed his views when he left the EDL, Robinson later retracted this, saying “Everything I said when I left the EDL was the same as I had said whilst leading the EDL.”
In an interview with the Tab in December 2016, Robinson said that he was going to speak about free speech on campus rather than “radical Islam”, but the fact his views do not appear to have changed should raise serious concerns.
Here at Student Rights, we hope that the organisers will reconsider giving Robinson an unopposed platform, and make sure that students are able to robustly challenge him on his past statements if the event does go ahead.
We also believe that buying up tickets and not attending risks exacerbating the situation, giving Robinson the opportunity to present himself as someone his opponents are too scared to challenge.
Giving extreme or intolerant speakers a platform is only worth it if people are there to challenge their noxious ideas, and we hope students at York will take this into account next week.