Academics are in uproar after Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris, a government whip, wrote to university vice-chancellors asking for details of their teaching on Brexit. He is now facing accusations of “McCarthyism”, although fellow Eurosceptics argue that he is perfectly within his rights to ask questions given fears that anti-Brexit lecturers are “indoctrinating” students. Remainer professors are relishing their chance to pose as martyrs, with AC Grayling daring the Tories to “ arrest” him for teaching that Brexit “must be stopped”.
Mr Heaton-Harris insists that he is not trying to stifle free speech. Indeed, it is hard to view him as the Brexiteers’ witchfinder general given that he is best known for tweeting dad jokes like “What has 12 hands, 12 legs and 12 eyes? 12 pirates”. His last observation about Europeans ran as follows: “I have a phobia of French pastry chefs. They give me the crepes”.
Meanwhile, the EU elite are celebrating their own free speech by provocatively suggesting that Brexit could still be called off. “It is in fact up to London how this will end,” Donald Tusk said this morning, “with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit.” The European Council’s pronouncement is not strictly new. Last October, he suggested that the only alternative to “hard Brexit” is “no Brexit”. This June, he indicated it was his “ dream” that Britain rejoined the bloc. That might tempt some people, but it wouldn’t happen without Brussels making sure Britain pays a price. His comments have a cruder purpose: to shake the British public’s resolve as the government pushes on with Brexit.
Downing Street made clear their determination to drive for a good Brexit deal, which Theresa May will no doubt echo tomorrow at Prime Minister’s Questions. David Davis will be answering questions from MPs in the morning on the Government’s progress in negotiations. He may find it hard to suggest that much has been achieved with Michel Barnier. But I point out online that the Frenchman is preparing himself to replace Jean-Claude Juncker in 2019 as European Commission chief. Securing a Brexit deal will be key if he wants to win the confidence of the European politicians who will decide on the next President. Monsieur Barnier may not push for a deal to benefit Britain, but he may do so in order to benefit Barnier.
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