MP’s chilling Brexit letter a worrying turn

November 2, 2017

The letter from Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris to UK universities asking them for details of names of those “teaching European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit”, and a list of course content and links to online lectures is chilling.

The purpose of this request could be attributed to one of several reasons. It may be that the government has finally recognised that its understanding of the functioning of the European Union is so limited that it is having a profoundly delaying effect on the progress of negotiations and so it is keen to encourage better teaching for the next generation. Or it may be feeding into that well-touted mantra of “taking back control”, by making sure that only certain “acceptable” messages are taught in universities.

While we can only surmise the intent of the request, because of the letter’s lack of information about why this material is sought, it concerns me deeply as a former academic to see that university teaching is now subject to government monitoring in a way that challenges academic freedom.

Brexit has seen a countrywide shift on what positions are acceptable to the “will of the people”. In June, Tory MP Andrea Leadsom said in a BBC interview that broadcasters should be “willing to be a bit patriotic” when she was challenged on the progress of the EU-UK negotiations. This letter looks like a worrying turn of events, where the training of students to think for themselves, to think critically and to look at different sides of an argument now appears to be of concern to the government. It may be that this kind of independence of thought is a threat to a government made up of some people who openly disdain experts, some who misinterpret and misuse data for their own ends and others who wish to keep information paid for by taxpayers secret and available only to a small cabal of ministers.

The precedents from history are clear: authoritarian governments are threatened by free thinking while a democratic society depends on the freedom of thought of young people and those who teach them. It has long been clear that Brexit is a threat to our universities; this letter makes it clear that, at least as pursued by this government, it also strikes at the root of a free and open society.

Molly Scott Cato
Green Party MEP for the South West
European Parliament


Following Chris Heaton-Harris’ request for the names of professors involved in the teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit, I have sent the MP my list of lectures for the following module, which I teach:

Module British and European Theatre History, Credits 30, Term Michaelmas


Week 1 Medieval Theatre: Performing the Brexit Heresy

Week 2 Shakespeare: Leaver or Remainer?

Week 3 Sex and Violence in Jacobean Theatre and its Influence on Brexit

Week 4 Behind the Masque: The Hidden Gestures of Brexit

Week 5 Cynical Complications: Brexit as Restoration Comedy

Week 6 “Boiled Brexit and Carrots”: The Nationalist Songs of the Music Hall

Week 7 “What if?” Applying Stanislavskian Methods to the Brexit Negotiations

Week 8 “Why Do You Always Wear Black?” Chekhov and the Russian Influence on Brexit

Week 9 After the Fall: Post-Brexit Dramatists

Week 10 Waiting for Brexit: Laughter, Despair and the Theatre of the Absurd

Paul Kleiman
Senior consultant (higher education), Ciel Associates
Visiting professor, Middlesex University and Rose Bruford College

Send to

Letters should be sent to:
Letters for publication in Times Higher Education should arrive by 9am Monday.
View terms and conditions.

Please login or register to read this article

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments