24 October 2017
A Government intent on giving itself sweeping new powers to bypass Parliament. 50 studies on the future of the country witheld from the public. And now Universities told to disclose what professors are saying to their students. This is not a fictional world invented by George Orwell. This is Brexit Britain.
The intervention by Chris Heaton-Harris, the whip who asked universities to tell him what they were teaching students about Brexit and who it was delivering those lessons, is chilling.
The fact that leaving the EU was trumpeted as a way to give power back to the people, rather than limiting their freedoms, seems not to bother Mr Heaton-Harris or his other Brexiteer colleagues. It's still not entirely clear why he wanted the details of university teaching programmes. But the fact he is a committed Brexit extremist doesn't bode well. Perhaps in keeping with the Brexit zeitgeist he hoped there it would pave the way to a clampdown.
The move appears to have angered politicians on both sides of Brexit in a way that the unpublished studies on its impact, the secrecy surrounding the talks, and the government's refusal to grant a referendum on the terms of the deal hasn't.
And that's understandable. Universities are places for debate and learning, not indoctrination. And it's not as if they will have any direct bearing on the negotiations.
Though the Government are keen to distance themselves from Heaton-Harris' bizarre letter-writing frenzy, that's not enough. If they are serious about protecting academic freedom then surely they must consider allowing this MP to join the die-hard crew of Brexiteers on the backbenches? If he remains a Government whip then then Ministers accept responsibility for his actions.
The Government can see the Brexit process crumbling before their eyes, so it's no wonder they want to close down debate on the biggest decision that's faced Britain for decades.
The Green Party is determined not only to call-out the likes of Harris but keep up the pressure on government to publish their secret studies, to allow parliament proper time to debate the terms of Brexit, to give everyone a chance to vote on the final deal, and yes, if necessary, to reverse the process entirely.
Britain prides itself on its democracy and on the ideas and new discoveries that are made and promoted by our universities. In that spirit we should be keeping all options on the table, remain open to the idea of changing our minds or our approach, and give the public the facts rather than hiding behind a decision we may live to regret.