Conservative MP demands details of university Brexit lecturers

PUBLISHED: 12:30 24 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:22 24 October 2017

Chris Heaton-Harris

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A Conservative MP and leading Brexiteer has written to universities across the UK asking for the names of lecturers teaching courses on Brexit and the content of their lessons.

Chris Heaton-Harris, a government whip and member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Conservative MPs, wrote to vice-chancellors earlier this month asking for the names of any professors involved in teaching European affairs “with particular reference to Brexit”.

His letter then asks for "a copy of the syllabus" and any online lectures on Brexit.

He has now been accused of "McCarthyite" tactics by academics who said it was an assault on free speech.

Sally Hunt, chairwoman of lecturers' union the University and College Union, told the BBC: "Our society will suffer if politicians seek to police what universities can and cannot teach.

"This attempt by Chris Heaton-Harris to compile a hit list of professors has the acrid whiff of McCarthyism about it and [universities minister] Jo Johnson must disown it in the strongest terms.

"Our universities and colleges must lead the way in defending academic freedom, where received wisdom can be challenged and controversial ideas debated."

McCarthyism refers to the US politician Joseph McCarthy, who led a campaign of political repression against suspected communist sympathisers in the 1950s.

Prof Kevin Featherstone, head of the European Institute at the LSE, told the Guardian: “The letter reflects a past of a McCarthyite nature.

"It smacks of asking: are you or have you ever been in favour of remain?

"There is clearly an implied threat that universities will somehow be challenged for their bias.”

Alan MacLeod, a lecturer in modern British history at Leeds University, tweeted this morning: “If Chris Heaton-Harris wants to know what I teach about Brexit he’ll need to cough up £9,250 [the annual tuition fee].”

More than 80% of academics voted to remain, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by the University and College Union in January.

Last year Mr Heaton-Harris' fellow Conservative MP and Brexiteer Bernard Jenkin, a board member of the Vote Leave campaign, filed a complaint to the Electoral Commission after LSE hosted an event at which a speaker said there was “no upside for the UK in Brexit”.

He demanded that the university be probed for "what appear to be contraventions of referendum legislation".

The commission investigated and took no action against the university.

Mr Heaton-Harris has since tweeted: "To be absolutely clear, I believe in free speech in our universities and in having an open and vigorous debate on Brexit."

Downing Street has said he was acting in his capacity as a constituency MP and not as a government whip.

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