On Monday I reported the announcement of a Durham University debating society event involving two leading BNP members. Pressure during the last few days, including plans for a major Unite Agianst Fascism protest at next Friday's event, has paid off. Here is the good news.
A JOINT STATEMENT FROM DURHAM UNION SOCIETY AND DURHAM UNIVERSITY
Durham Union Society (DUS), with the support of Durham University, has today announced that it has had to cancel plans for a debate entitled
'This House believes in a Multicultural Britain' in Durham City, scheduled for Friday 12 February.
The DUS had invited political commentator and advisor, Kulveer Ranger, and Conservative MP Edward Leigh to propose the motion, and elected British National Party (BNP) representatives Andrew Brons MEP and Councillor Chris Beverley to speak in opposition.
The decision to cancel the debate was taken by both the DUS, a long-established, independent debating society, and the University, after extensive consultations with the Police on the issue of public safety. While the debate was to be open to DUS members only, evidence of an escalation in planned protests and violence outside the chamber from both anti-fascist and fascist groups had increased the risk of public disorder and intimidation to students and staff.
DUS President Anna Birley said: "There has been mounting interest in the debate with both concerned and very supportive feedback from students and staff. I am confident that the debate would have been intelligent and responsible and an opportunity for our membership to expose and challenge any offensive views. I am disappointed that the focus has been moved away from a debate about multiculturalism to a planned confrontation outside of the chamber.
"I respect the right of groups to protest peacefully, but when a minority of both fascist and anti-fascist groups use peaceful protests and a controversial debate as a pretext for threatening behaviour, we must prioritise the safety of students attending the debate. I'm particularly concerned that the National Union of Students (NUS), which the DUS has no affiliation with, had planned to go out of their way to bring coaches of students to Durham, putting both their students and our members between rival groups of impassioned demonstrators."
The University, which had initially given consent for the debate to take place on its premises after careful consideration of its code of practice and statutes which preserve 'freedom of expression' within the University's estate, was supportive of the Society's decision to call-off the debate when it became clear that the safety of students, staff and visitors outside of the debating chamber could not be guaranteed.
Carolyn Fowler, the University's Registrar said: "The welfare of students and staff has always been our first priority and the University statutes clearly state that any threat to public safety supersedes the importance of freedom of expression, so we fully support the decision of DUS to cancel the debate on these grounds. The University was not prepared to provide an occasion for external extremist groups to engage in provocative and intimidating demonstrations that could endanger people and property.
"The views of the BNP are diametrically opposed to Durham University's expressed ethos of cultural-diversity and tolerance. We welcome staff and students of all cultures and faiths and from all parts of the world."
Durham University has the highest percentage of international staff of any UK University and is proud to welcome more than 1800 international students from over 160 countries.