The Open University has lifted its ban on Cuban students studying at the institution following efforts by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC).

In a statement issued on 8 November, the CSC hails the result as a victory after the campaign’s supporters wrote to the Open University and to their MPs about the discriminatory ban. Trade unions, such as the NUT, UCU, Unite and Unison, also issued public statements and letters, while MPs in support of the campaign raised and debated the issue in Westminster.

However, despite this victory, the question remains as to how the ban was allowed in the first place given the legislation detailed in the Equality Act 2010. In its statement, the CSC says that the Open University had a choice: to either break the UK’s Equality Act 2010 or face potential legal action from the US Treasury Department. They opted for introducing a discriminatory policy against Cuban students, in the process helping to implement US blockade policy in the UK. 

"The Cuban people are entitled to equal treatment no different from any other nationality and they should never have been discriminated against in the first place. The way that the Open University was seemingly willing to treat Cuban students was simply unacceptable."

Doug Christie
union and client director at Thompsons Solicitors, and CSC Executive Council Member

The CSC also says it should have been the British government who challenged the Open University’s “blatant disregard” for British Laws in favour of a US blockade, not the campaign. Only after the national press coverage and questions raised in the Houses of Parliament - all initiated by the CSC’s vigorous campaigning – was the policy reversed.

The CSC confirm that, “By complying with the extraterritorial aspects of the US blockade, [the Open University] contravened legislation which prohibits British companies and organisations ignoring UK laws in favour of US regulations.” On 1 November the British government, along with 190 other nations, voted to condemn this US blockade at the United Nations General Assembly - however the CSC believes that their actions do not reflect this vote.

Concluding its statement, the CSC says the government needs to send a clear message that UK laws are sovereign, and to stop other companies and organisations bending to US Treasury threats. It is also asking the government to make a public pledge to take robust action against any breaches of British law in the future linked to this extraterritorial US legislation.

Thompsons Solicitors actively supported this campaign and we have a long campaigning history and has worked extensively with the CSC and trade unions to defend the rights of Cuban people and campaigned against the illegal 50 year US blockade. The firm also supported the freeing of the wrongly imprisoned Miami Five. Click to learn more about how Thompsons supported the campaign.

Doug Christie, union and client director at Thompsons Solicitors, and CSC Executive Council Member, said: “This is a positive result for the CSC and we’re pleased to see that the Open University has been forced to reverse its discriminatory ban. The Cuban people are entitled to equal treatment no different from any other nationality and they should never have been discriminated against in the first place. The way that the Open University was seemingly willing to treat Cuban students was simply unacceptable. 

“While this is a positive result for the campaign, the Tory government’s failure to stand back and not challenge the Open University is very telling about its desperation to appease the US in the face of Brexit. We stand alongside the CSC, as we have done for many years. We join their call for the government to issue a public statement making clear to UK-based organisations that UK law is paramount and failure to comply with British legislation has significant consequences.”