Marine Le Pen appears at a Front National rally last yearblandinelc

Marine Le Pen's invitation to appear at the Cambridge Union on Tuesday has drawn condemnation from CUSU, the National Union of Students, Cambridge Unite Against Fascism and Cambridge Universities Labour Club. Activists plan to protest against the leader of France’s far-right Front National on Tuesday afternoon, with more than 350 having signed up on Facebook, calling for there to be ‘no platform’ for the French MEP.

Le Pen, who launched her party’s campaign for France’s municipal elections last week, will be met with demonstrators outside the Union from 2.30pm. The NUS and Unite Against Fascism have organised a coach to transport protestors from London. 

CUSU president Rosalyn Old pulled out of a debate at the Union last week at the last minute in protest following the announcement. In a statement she said: "Given the imminent demonstration planned by the EDL in Cambridge on the 23rd February, the invitation by the Union Society to Marine LePen is more than just insensitive, it will have a direct effect on the safety of many of our students.” The presidents of five of CUSU’s autonomous campaigns also backed Old’s criticism of the invitation, with the Black Minority Ethnic campaign branding the Union's decision "a retrogressive step".

Aaron Kiely, the NUS Black Students Officer, has demanded the Union rescind Le Pen’s invitation to speak, saying “there is no space on our campuses for those who would seize power and use it to violently attack Jewish, black, LGBT and migrant communities among others”. The NUS ‘no platform’ policy bars NUS members from speaking alongside members of organisations such as the Front National. 

Unite Against Fascism protest against the British National PartyJames M Thorne

In a statement, Unite Against Fascism, the anti far-right pressure group, explained their opposition to the French politician’s speech by claiming her presence would embolden extremist movements across Europe: “Fascist organisations across Europe are attempting to take advantage of the economic crisis and the impact of austerity, to build support.” The leader of the local UAF group, which will be leading protests against a planned English Defence League (EDL) demonstration in Cambridge on Saturday 23, said Le Pen’s visit could give the EDL “the boost they need”.

Cambridge Universities Labour Club is also supporting the demonstration, announcing they will urge Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham to withdraw from a scheduled appearence at the Union later this term in protest over Le Pen's invitation. They said: "Granting a platform to Marine Le Pen is dangerous and risks accepting racism and fascism into the political mainstream. Just as Marine Le Pen is free to speak, the Cambridge Union Society is free to decide to whom it affords a platform."

Local MEP Richard Howitt has voiced concern on Twitter, commenting that he was "sorry Cambridge Union giving platform to MEP & French fascist leader whose extreme, deeply offensive views shouldn't be given platform". Supporting the Cambridge Union’s decision however, James Root, president of the Cambridge Libertarians told Varsity that “whether her views are fascist or not is irrelevant. Her right to free speech, and the right of others to hear her speak, should not be infringed.”

Marine Le Pen greets her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the Front National in 1972blandinelc

The Front National has advertised Le Pen’s invitation by the Cambridge Union on the front page of its website, telling visitors that the “prestigious organisation ... has traditionally received the most powerful and influential personalities in the world”. Speaking with the aide of an interpreter, Le Pen's address will cover topics such as French politics and the European Union and will be followed by what the Front National terms a “discussion with students and university faculty”. 

Earlier this month Le Pen appeared in a BBC interview backing David Cameron’s call for a referendum on the European Union, telling viewers that if in power she would “do the same thing”. Le Pen claimed parties such as hers and UKIP were responsible for shifting “the goal posts” in debate over the European Union. 

In France, news of Le Pen’s Cambridge invitation has been featured in major newspapers and news websites. Axelle Lemaire, the French representative for expatriates living in Britain, dubbed the ‘French MP for London’, said on Wednesday: “The University of Cambridge brings itself no honour by inviting Le Pen to speak next week. Would they invite the British National party?”