Brexit Party scholar: quite a few academics are secret Brexiteers

Would-be Brexit Party MP Kevin Yuill says he is encouraged by support for Leave party among staff and students

November 6, 2019
Kevin Yuill

For the next five weeks, Kevin Yuill will combine university teaching with an unlikely task for an academic: campaigning to become a Brexit Party MP.

Dr Yuill, assistant professor of American history at the University of Sunderland, is standing for Nigel Farage’s pro-Leave party in the traditional Labour stronghold of Houghton and Sunderland South – a constituency in England’s north-east that is often the first to declare its result on election night.

“It’s often said that if you had a breeze block and pinned a red rosette on it [to run as a parliamentary candidate], Labour would still win here,” Dr Yuill said of the huge support that Labour has historically enjoyed in the former mining and shipbuilding area.

With 62 per cent of voters backing Leave in the 2016 referendum, however, Dr Yuill believes the 15 per cent swing that he needs to upset the sitting Labour MP, Bridget Phillipson, is possible at next month’s general election. “There is amazing anger against her because she has campaigned strongly for a second referendum,” Dr Yuill told Times Higher Education, adding that Labour leader “Jeremy Corbyn is also not very popular in the north-east, either”.

As an outspoken Brexit backer, Dr Yuill – a Canadian-born academic who has lived in the UK for 36 years, and on Wearside for 20 years – admits that he is something of a rarity in academia, observing that “most of my colleagues voted Remain”.

However, there are, he added, “quite a few secret Brexiteers among my colleagues” who have expressed support for his position by email.

Among students at Sunderland, support for Brexit is much higher, with some students even joining his campaign team, he said. “I’d say students here are split 50-50 on Brexit – maybe 60-40 in favour of Remain – but lots of students have been emailing me to say they are behind me and want to help.”

That split is, however, probably explained by Sunderland’s strong local student intake, he conceded. “It is not typical of most universities, where the clear majority of students are in favour of Remain,” he said.

Dr Yuill’s decision to stand for the Brexit Party might run against mainstream opinion in academia, but his objections to European Union membership are broadly similar to those once espoused by Tony Benn and, until recently, Mr Corbyn – figures admired by many left-wing academic voters – namely that the EU’s leaders lack democratic accountability.

“I’ve never voted Conservative and usually voted Labour, although I voted Green once,” Dr Yuill said.

However, his willingness to take controversial positions – he has previously argued in favour of trophy hunting and relaxing gun laws in the UK – might relate, he suggested, to the fact he is “not a typical academic”.

“I worked in a factory after I left school and didn’t go to university until I was 27,” he explained.

Despite the Brexit Party’s lack of support among academia, Dr Yuill says his own institution has been supportive of his decision to stand for Parliament. “They do not support my position [on Brexit] necessarily, but have said they will make allowances to let me do this.”


Print headline: Leaver: I’m not alone on campus

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Reader's comments (13)

As an academic and Brexit supporter I salute you! There's very few democrats willing to be open about their support for Brexit in our "bastions of free speech" which are modern universities.
I am an academic and a Brexit supporter too. Just because some people in the Remain side are intolerant and insulting to Brexit supporters , we still exists. Apparently we are all xenophobic/racist, uneducated, and gullible individuals who are the minority everywhere but somehow managed to win the majority in a referendum... The domination of Remain supporters on the internet and social media shows how distorted online reality is from voter reality.
Even a first year student who asserted Remain domination of the internet and social media would receive a low mark - but this falsehood about domination has apparently been uttered by an "academic"!
Thanks for demonstrating my point - keep it up with the insults. - from the "academic" And also another commentator who suggested an academic who supports Brexit to be fired from their job - that's tolerance for alternative viewpoints for you; if you support Brexit, apparently, you need to be shamed and made jobless. It is not good enough to counter their views, they need to have their lives ruined. Another example supporting my earlier comment. The level of vindictiveness and intolerance is amazing.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I actually agree that the EU is undemocratic, non-transparent, and unaccountable: I just happen to think that the way to change it is by working from within rather than walking away. However, my reasons for being a Remainer are philosphical first, followed by academic and economic. Leaving will make the UK poorer, not just financially but in so many ways. However, unlike many Leavers, I see no need to insult and belittle those whose opinions differ from my own.
I believe that everyone has the right to exercise their vote in referendums and elections as they see fit. However, I find it unpalatable to hear of an academic who has very good, secure employment - a 'job-for-life' and a nice, secure pension in the pipeline - standing as a political candidate to entice others with less favourable employment conditions to vote for unknown economic and employment outcomes in a region that if the negative prediction prove to be true, will possibly suffer much more than most others regions. Take Nissan in Sunderland. The company is already set to probably relocate in the EU because of Brexit, which will cost up to 35,000 direct and supply-chain jobs. The Wear was apparently dying through pollution before EU anti-pollution legislation was applied to the region/ UK. The food and water we and our children eat and drink are safer and healthier for us because of the EU. Social justice and the employment rights of workers, especially for women, are stronger now than ever before because of EU legislation…. And so on. Moreover, it would be really nice to know, and for Dr Yuill to confirm, if he will continue to be paid whilst campaigning for is parliamentary seat, and if he will continue to be paid if elected. It would be somewhat ironic for a person in an absolutely secure employment position, who will thus be risking nothing whatsoever if he is successful, to still be paid from public monies during his campaign, given Brexit is about releasing the UK from the financial waste it incurs as an EU member, which will of course be a matter Dr Yuill is intent on helping the country to address. In short, and I trust Dr Yuill will see the point, surely the tax payer should not incur the cost of his campaign-time away from the lectern! As for trophy hunting and relaxing UK gun laws; the first is abhorrent the latter patently irresponsible, and, as no doubt many fellow academics would agree, seriously lacking any evidence of the kind of "critical thinking” skills we try to instil in our students to help them become, as best we can, responsible moral and ethically informed global citizens who are mindful of the lives and wellbeing of others who are, as in this case, in a much more vulnerable economic position that tenured academics.
Glad this guy’s not a mathematician. He thinks 50:50 is the same as 60:40.
I'd be curious to see a somewhat more credible academic (more, that is, than one still stuck at the assistant prof level in his 40s, at Sunderland, and whose limited publications show him to be more of an anti gun-control and anti-euthanasia activist - quite apart from his pro-trophy-hunting profile) taking a pro-hard-Brexit stance or aiming to represent Farage's Brexit Party.... This particular example seems less than compelling - certainly not as evidence of the article's surely misleading headline "Quite a few academics..."
"Lots of academics are Brexiteers" - says Brexiteer looking to generate media attention around his election campaign. Come on, THE, you're better than that. These are the people that are "sick of experts". Don't do their work for them.
... I also love how the first two comments in this thread claimed that Brexiteers were being insulted and their free speech stifled - before anyone else had even commented. Methinks the Brexit lobby playeth the victim and doth protesteth pre-emptively!
THEReaderDoha did you READ the article? If so, you would note that Dr Yuill didn't go to University until he was 27 years old. He has therefore achieved his status in a remarkably short time!
@BeckHurst. I didn't go to university until I was 60, but I'm not sure that gives me any special authority/quality to argue a point.
Time to cancel my subscription to THES I think. All we need is Farage’s ideologues to be airing their views on a platform that claims to promote transnational collaboration, democracy and the well-being of our students. None of these has any place in right wing discourses.


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