A CITY university boss who exposed a ‘sinister’ letter from a Government minister which demanded the names of academics teaching about Brexit has labelled his actions a ‘crude attempt to establish a comprehensive information base’.
Professor David Green, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Worcester, spoke out after Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris admitted on live television he wasn’t writing a book on the subject.
Conservative Brexiteer Heaton-Harris had asked vice-chancellors at universities across the UK to send him details of any courses which may be teaching about Brexit, as well as the names of lecturers.
Jo Johnson, who was an education minister at the time, claimed the request was part of research for a book that Heaton-Harris was working on.
However when asked about the claims on Sky last Sunday (February 24), the Daventry MP laughed and admitted ‘there isn’t a book’.
Professor Green hit the headlines in October 2017 when he made public a letter from the then Government whip which asked for the ‘names of professors at your establishment who are involved in the teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit.’
It went on: “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 compared the letter to the actions of 1950s US Republican Joseph McCarthy who spent almost five years trying expose communists and other left-wing ‘loyalty risks’ and would often make accusations of treason without proper regard for evidence.
Mr Heaton-Harris is now a Brexit minister in the same department as Worcester’s MP Robin Walker.
Speaking to the Observer, Professor Green said: “I am not surprised to learn there never was a book. This was a deliberately misleading fabrication invented to cover the Government’s embarrassment at the reaction to what Mr Heaton Harris had done.
“His crude attempt to establish a comprehensive information base containing all university academics in the UK teaching on Brexit with their names, syllabi and course material, was a deeply dangerous initiative and runs directly contrary to the entire history of free enquiry, teaching and research which is an essential ingredient of a modern democracy.
“Members of the Government have a particular responsibility and duty to protect academic freedom within the law not to circumscribe it.”
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said the MP was acting in a ‘personal capacity’ and not on behalf of the Government.