European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker

RICHARD PORRITT with the week's big stories

Thanks to concerned readers in academia, The New European was among several media outlets to receive a copy of Chris Heaton-Harris' sinister letter to universities this week.

Did this dunderhead Tory really think he could fire off veiled threats to vice-chancellors up and down the country in an apparent act of arch-McCarthyism and they would just cough up the information?

The fierce Eurosceptic later tweeted that he was a supporter of 'free speech' and wanted 'an open and vigorous debate on Brexit'. Academia disagreed and the outcry was deafening. Even Number 10 weighed in with the Prime Minister's spokesman saying 'free speech is one of the foundations on which our universities are built'.

Poor old Chris, he fancied his chances at a big job one day but this act of stupidity might have put paid to that. Unless, of course, that other bright spark Tory Andrea Leadsom is successful in her push for Downing Street. She insisted there was nothing sinister about the letter.

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An army of 13,000 bots posted 65,000 social media messages in the run up to the EU referendum – and it appears these robots are mainly bonkers Brexiteers.

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Experts from the University of London said these 'zombie agents' showed a 'clear slant towards Leave'. The majority of bots only retweeted messages rather than actually wrote them though – they left that nonsense to the likes of Boris Johnson, Arron Banks and Nigel Farage. Not even a bot would stoop so low.


How many awful dinner party guests have you invited back? Not many probably.

But for Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker there are numerous excruciating evening meals still to come before Brexit. And the fact that every, painful detail is leaked the morning after must make the whole situation almost unbearable. This is especially true for May who is desperately trying to hold her party together and not appear weak – akin to nailing jelly to a wall in the current climate.

According to German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung she appeared 'tormented', 'anxious' and 'begged for help'.

Strong and stable eh?


The Separatists might sound like a rubbish indie band but they have the wind in their sails across Europe right now.

Perhaps buoyed by Brexit – although often with very different grievances – regions across the map are demanding greater autonomy.

In Italy the northern regions of Veneto and Lombardy voted overwhelmingly – 95% in favour – for some form of devolution.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni quickly said the government would hold talks with the two wealthy regions, who both want better deals on tax revenue.

He said: 'This will be a complex discussion, but we are ready to carry it out within the limits of the law and the constitution. 'We do not need new social divisions.'

Both regions are governed by the anti-Europe Northern League who are keen for a tussle with Rome but Gentiloni seems to have defused the situation somewhat by offering dialogue... Madrid? Are you listening?


Let's cast our minds back to 2000. With the terror of the Millennium Bug now behind us there was something else to worry about, the rise of the far-right in Austria.

The Freedom Party (FPO) pulled off a shock result in the election and formed a coalition with the People's Party (ÖVP). This placed FPO leader Jörg Haider, a man who had praised Hitler's orderly employment policies, at the centre of Austrian politics.

Fast forward 17 years and there is a distinct feeling of déjà vu in Austria. The FPO – set up by a former SS officer in the years after the Second World War – is to enter talks with incoming chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

The 31-year-old has said a 'pro-European orientation' is a prerequisite for the talks but this is a bid to stifle concerns about the FPO being back at the political top table.

Last time the FPO were in government Austria was ostracised in Europe. Let's hope similar doesn't have to happen again.


Weekly Emmanuel Macron Update: Even his dog has turned against him.

As has been well documented on these pages, the French President has had little to smile about since he won a landslide victory against far-right Marine Le Pen.

While the President was having a meeting with ministers, Nemo – the black Labrador-Griffon cross – wandered into the opulent room in the Elysee Palace and cocked his leg against the fireplace. And it was all caught on film by a television crew.

A fitting analogy for Macron's first six months? Mais oui.

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