Brexit ‘witch-hunt’ MP blasted by universities

24 Oct

Conservative whip and Brexiteer Chris Heaton-Harris made the request in a letter also asking universities to supply copies of course syllabuses and links to online lectures.

The politician reportedly approached vice chancellors across the UK.

Lord Chris Patten, the former Conservative party chairman turned chancellor of Oxford University, branded the move “absolutely disgraceful”.

Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust leaves home on November 12, 2013 in London, England. Tim Davie has been appointed the acting Director General of the BBC following the resignation of George Entwistle after the broadcasting of an episode of the current affairs programme 'Newsnight' on child abuse allegations which contained errors.
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Lord Patten said he had to ‘check the letter was true’

“When I heard about it, I had to check up it was true,” Lord Patten told BBC Radio 4’s World At One.

“Because it seemed to me such an extraordinary example of outrageous and foolish behaviour, offensive and idiotic Leninism.

“I couldn’t believe that this could come from a Conservative MP. I think he must be an agent of Mr Corbyn, intent on further increasing the number of young people who want to vote Labour.”

The University of Worcester’s vice chancellor, Professor David Green, also said: “When I read this extraordinary letter on Parliamentary paper from a serving MP, I felt a chill down my spine.

“Was this the beginnings of a very British McCarthyism?”

The letter Chris Heaton-Harris sent to Professor David Green
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The letter Chris Heaton-Harris sent to Professor David Green

The letter from Mr Heaton-Harris stated: “I was wondering if you would be so kind as to supply me with the names of professors at your establishment who are involved in the teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit.

“Furthermore, if I could be provided with a copy of the syllabus and links to the online lectures which relate to this area I would be much obliged.”

Professor Green said the Daventry MP’s request, which “appears so innocent” was “so dangerous”.

He said: “Here is the first step to the thought police, the political censor and Newspeak, naturally justified as ‘the will of the British people’, another phrase to be found on Mr Heaton-Harris’s website.

“Then I thought that only one response was appropriate, which Churchill spoke so brilliantly for all who love Britain and democracy when he said ‘we shall outlive the power of tyranny’ and ‘we shall never surrender’.

“That is my reply to Mr Heaton-Harris MP’s sinister letter.”

Professor Kevin Featherstone, head of the European Institute at the London School of Economics (LSE), called the letter “offensive” and Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said it was “unacceptable”.

Jessica Cole, the head of policy at the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading universities, said: “Whether academics supported Leave or Remain at the referendum has no bearing on their ability to deliver stimulating, challenging courses which include a full range of views.”

Mr Heaton-Harris later responded to the backlash on Twitter.

He said: “To be absolutely clear, I believe in free speech in our universities and in having an open and vigorous debate on Brexit.”

A spokesperson for Theresa May said the MP was acting in a “personal capacity” and not on behalf of the Government.

They added: “Free speech is one of the principles on which our universities are built and it must be protected.”

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