The Union gave Turning Point permission to directly contact three potential debate speakers themselves – Wes Streeting, Caroline Lucas, and Russell BrandLouis Ashworth

The Cambridge Union allowed members of Turning Point UK, the newly-launched student organisation whose American branch has links to the far-right, to invite several opposition speakers to a debate that Turning Point speakers were to participate in. The Union has now cancelled the debate, which was planned for 11th March, after Turning Point UK invited a speaker which the Union had not authorised to speak in opposition to the motion.

According to a Union spokesperson, Turning Point had initially approached the Union to host Turning Point USA leaders Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, with the Union agreeing on the basis that the Union would arrange opposition speakers to debate them on the topic, “This house believes the right are now the true defenders of freedom of speech”.

However, efforts by the Union committee to secure opposition speakers fell through “due to hectic schedules”. The committee therefore then asked Turning Point for suggestions for potential invitees, claiming that “it is not uncommon [for the Union] to discuss other potential speakers with those already confirmed.”

Although the Union “did not initially authorise Turning Point to send any invitations on [its] behalf”, a spokesperson claimed that “as a result of a misunderstanding [Turning Point] nevertheless started inviting”, managing to secure LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell as an opposition speaker last Friday.

As a result, the Union gave Turning Point permission to directly contact three potential speakers themselves – Wes Streeting, Caroline Lucas, and Russell Brand – stating that “we were willing to believe they had acted in good faith and were sincere in ensuring that the opposition consisted of strong speakers”.

However, Turning Point also reached out to at least one speaker the Union had not authorised, leading to the cancellation of the debate, despite planning being “well-advanced”. The Union spokesperson noted that the “event had not been publicised or approved by standing committee given that the list of opposition speakers was yet to be confirmed”.

Stephen Doughty MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, tweeted images of his invitation from Turning Point yesterday to the debate, purportedly scheduled for 11 March.

In response to this, the Union spokesperson said: “We were not aware that they had contacted this particular MP, and we did not authorise the content of the invitation that he was sent. We were dismayed by the emphasis placed on Turning Point within the invitation”.

Speaking to Varsity, Doughty said, “I am baffled by this approach from a bizarre, controversial alt right outfit with links to Scientology and conspiracy theorists – appearing to suggest they are acting on behalf of the Cambridge Union.

“Not only will I not be taking part in a desperate attempt at self promotion by a bunch of crackpot Trump supporters trying to stir up division on campuses in the name of debate – but I will also be asking the Cambridge Union to clarify if they in fact agreed to this approach”.

Turning Point UK is a newly-launched offshoot of the American organisation Turning Point USA, and has been backed by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, as well as Conservative MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel. Youth members include Tom Harwood, a Guido Fawkes reporter, as well as Darren Grimes, the student ‘BeLeave’ campaigner fined £20,000 last year for breaking campaign spending laws during the EU referendum.

“When the standing committee was made aware of the scope of the invitations Turning Point had been sending the decision was made that we should not go ahead with the event. This was purely because we could not be confident that we would maintain control of the process”

Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit, aims to organise students on university campus chapters to “promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government”, and “push back against intolerance and bias against conservatives in higher education” according to its website.  It has attracted criticism for alleged links to racist and anti-Islam messages.

Turning Point drew particular ire for setting up ‘Professor Watchlist’, a website designed to ‘expose’ academics who “promote anti-American, leftwing propaganda in the classroom” or ‘target’ conservative students, while the New York Times noted that it had been “criticized as a threat to academic freedom”.

A New Yorker article in 2017 highlighted the group’s “close relationship” with President Donald Trump’s family, amid concerns that contributions from think-tanks translated to “dark money” entering “into campus elections”.

Charlie Kirk, who was due to speak at the Union debate, has spoken out against what he sees as the proliferation of  ‘cultural Marxism’ on campuses, and claimed in December that the gilet-jaunes protests in France were a “middle class rebellion against cultural Marxism” and that “We want Trump” was “chanted through the streets of Paris” – a claim that was later debunked.

Correspondent Brendan Joel Kelley, writing for Hatewatch, the Southern Poverty Law Centre's anti-extremist watchdog publication, wrote that “Kirk himself has been criticized for his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim tweets, and he habitually tweets out racist dog-whistles”.

Candace Owens, the other speaker Turning Point proposed speak at the Union, is a vocal critic of Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement, and following the Charlottesville riots in 2017 described concerns over rising white nationalism as “stupid”.


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The Union said that they decided not to go ahead with the event “purely because we could not be confident that we would maintain control of the process,” and that they “appreciate that the ambiguous nature of some of the correspondence we had with Turning Point may have given the impression that we were comfortable with them sending further invitations.”

“However, this invitation goes beyond would we could have expected and clearly should have been run past us first.”

The Union added that it “does not endorse the views of any speakers it hosts or considers hosting.”

Last week, Oxford student newspaper Cherwell referenced the proposed debate in Cambridge on 11 March, amid news that Turning Point UK had established a chapter in Oxford, as well as other British universities.

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