'We will never surrender': Universities vow to defy Tory MP over 'chilling and sinister' Brexit letter

Theresa May urged to sack Chris Heaton-Harris 'immediately'

Professor Green said he hoped Chris Heaton-Harris would apologise for the letter
Professor Green said he hoped Chris Heaton-Harris would apologise for the letter

A university vice chancellor has issued a stinging rebuke to a Conservative MP’s attempts to compile a “sinister” list of academics who are teaching about Brexit, telling him: “We will never surrender”.

Professor David Green, vice chancellor of the University of Worcester, said Chris Heaton-Harris’ efforts to find out what universities are teaching their students about Brexit had sent “a chill down my spine” and suggested they constitute “a British McCarthyism”.

Mr Heaton-Harris was widely criticised for sending a letter to UK universities requesting they provide him with the names of professors who are teaching about Brexit, as well as a copy of their syllabus.

In response, Professor Green told The Independent the letter was “chilling and sinister” and demanded that Theresa May immediately sack Mr Heaton-Harris as a government whip.

He said: “This is an outrageous attack on elementary freedoms and it is very important that it is resisted.

“A decent prime minister would sack him immediately as a whip…He should no longer be a member of the government.”

Professor Green had earlier invoked Winston Churchill in vowing to fight “the power of tyranny”.

He 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?

“I realised that his letter just asking for information appears so innocent but is really so, so dangerous. 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.”

He told The Independent: “I love this country and I love liberty, and I for one am going to do absolutely everything I can to oppose this outrageous attack by him on freedom.

“He is abusing his power. He is a government whip and a Member of Parliament. He has responsibilities to democracy that he appears to have forgotten.”

Asked what he thought the Conservative MP was hoping to achieve with his letter, Professor Green said: “I have little doubt that he wants to get a list of people who are the ‘guilty’ people who, he will argue, have betrayed Britain. He is trying to engage in some form of whipping up of hatred.”

The academic, who is hoping for a letter of apology from the MP, said he feared Mr Heaton-Harris could use his position in Parliament to attack academics if they fail to provide him with the information he has requested.

Professor Green said: “If I don’t, is he planning to use Parliament to denounce me as an ‘enemy of the people’?”

As other academics joined the condemnation, it also emerged that Mr Heaton-Harris may have breached EU law with his attempts to find out what universities are teaching about Brexit.

Donald Tusk says Brexit can still be stopped

A group of students studying for master’s degrees in Politics and the Political Economy of Europe at the London School of Economics (LSE) have written to the MP accusing him of violating the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which includes statements on academic freedom.

In a letter seen by The Independent, they say: “Since the United Kingdom is still a Member State of the EU, you are obliged as a working politician to respect and follow the European Union treaties. It is stated in Article 13 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights that ‘the arts and scientific research shall be free of constraint. Academic freedom shall be respected’.

“Your action by asking academics to provide information of the teaching and researching of Brexit issues is in breach of this article as you are inputting political pressure which undermines our ability as autonomous institutions, academics and students to exercise our right to freedom of education, which is increasing our academic vulnerability and legally breaching not only the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights bit also the UNESCO declaration of 1997 [on academic freedom].”

They add: “We sincerely hope that you will reconsider your action in monitoring university teaching in European Affairs, and will leave students and academics to express and exercise their right and freedom to education."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in