He might regret it when they send over Factortame notes
A Tory MP and staunch Brexiteer has written to universities to ask which academics are teaching about Brexit, what they’re teaching and links to their lectures. As the government distances itself from the bizarre letter, law academics have moved to condemn Heaton-Harris’ “McCarthyite” request.
The letter (in full below) was the work of Chris Heaton-Harris, the MP for Daventry and a former MEP. While it wasn’t addressed to law faculties directly, anyone that’s had to grapple with Van Gend en Loos and Internationale Handelsgesellschaft will know EU law is a compulsory module on qualifying law degree syllabuses, alongside: tort, contract, public, equity, crime and land. This means Heaton-Harris’ letter is right in law academics’ territory, and seems to have hit a nerve.
Here is the rather strange letter Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris sent to all universities asking what they’re teaching on Brexit pic.twitter.com/1iuQalmPs3
— Claire Phipps (@Claire_Phipps) October 24, 2017
Professor Chris Ashford, for one, was quick to condemn the letter as “McCarthyite”. The Northumbria Law School academic, who specialises in law and society, thinks Heaton-Harris’ request was a misjudged interference into law schools and other higher education departments.
The Heaton-Harris letter is a misjudged McCarthyite interference in Law Schools and HEIs. He could have sought engagement but chose this.
— Prof. Chris Ashford (@lawandsexuality) October 24, 2017
Equally peeved was the head of Durham Law School, Thom Brooks, who told us:
“I’d urge everyone to turn up the pressure to get this request withdrawn. We shouldn’t have to refuse a request that shouldn’t be made.”
While Carl Gardner, who teaches at BPP Law School, likened Heaton-Harris’ remarks to hunting witches.
Academics are right to react so strongly. Heaton-Harris is a public servant and should just try to make his policy work. Not hunt witches. https://t.co/r9Fw9O0AUo
— Carl Gardner (@carlgardner) October 24, 2017
Heaton-Harris has responded to the barrage of criticism, tweeting: “To be absolutely clear, I believe in free speech in our universities and in having an open and vigorous debate on Brexit.” Yet the social media fire continues to burn.
In and among the flames, everyone’s wondering: why was the letter actually sent?
Was the Eurosceptic MP hoping to push some sort of pro-Brexit influence onto the syllabuses? Well, Theresa May has said it was nothing to do with her, so we can’t point to some sort of Brexit government policy.
Maybe MP-ing is a little dry nowadays, and Heaton-Harris was planning on keeping busy by learning about preliminary reference proceedings and the differences between directives and recommendations. The material could come in handy, quips University of East Anglia law lecturer Paul Bernal:
Maybe we should all send #HeatonHarris our notes, slides and materials. If he actually read them he might understand the impact of Brexit.
— Paul Bernal (@PaulbernalUK) October 24, 2017
Or maybe you’ll agree with Conor Gearty, a professor of human rights at the London School of Economics and a founding member of Matrix Chambers. “I think it’s just a bog standard backbencher looking for attention and/or currying favour with the Brexit gang,” he told us.