Wales politics

Tory MP Davies leaves Brexit 'belly-aching' seminar

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Media captionDavid Davies says there is a "wider discussion" to be had about universities

A Welsh Tory MP left a university seminar because he "wasn't going to be lectured on freedom of speech", having raised concerns about universities "belly-aching over Brexit".

David Davies defended Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris, who asked universities for names of professors teaching Brexit courses and the content of lectures.

Mr Davies said later Mr Heaton-Harris "should have gone a lot further".

The Westminster seminar was on a survey on public views concerning Brexit.

The event was organised by Cardiff University.

On Tuesday, it emerged Mr Heaton-Harris wrote to universities asking for the names of professors "involved in the teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit" and for a "copy of the syllabus".

Of the eight universities in Wales, Cardiff, Bangor and Glyndwr confirmed that they were sent the letters whilst Aberystwyth said they had no record of having receiving it.

The remaining four universities have yet to respond.

In a tweet, Mr Heaton-Harris, a Eurosceptic MP and Conservative government whip, said: "To be absolutely clear, I believe in free speech in our universities and in having an open and vigorous debate on Brexit."

Downing Street said Mr Heaton-Harris had written to universities in his capacity as MP for Daventry and not as a representative of government.

Image copyright Conservative Party
Image caption Chris Heaton-Harris says he believes in "open" debate on Brexit

The issue was raised with Cardiff University's Vice-Chancellor, Colin Riordan, at the breakfast seminar meeting on Thursday morning.

Monmouth MP Mr Davies, sat at the front, intervened in what one described as a "pretty polite exchange of views" but others said was a "rant".

The Conservative MP defended his colleague's actions and argued that universities "shouldn't be promoting anti-Brexit views because they're publicly funded".

After a comment from former Labour Leader Lord Kinnock, David Davies left, saying he had "had enough of this".

'Eating croissants'

Talking to BBC Wales after the event, Mr Davies said he "wasn't going to spend my morning with Lord Kinnock or being lectured by him on freedom of speech."

"Free speech is an issue that universities need to address and it's absolutely time that they realised that they are publicly-funded organisations that shouldn't waste their time belly-aching about Brexit.

"They haven't got the time to sit there drinking coffee and eating croissants and lecturing people in Parliament about anti-Brexit bias," he added.

A Labour MP present at the event said Mr Davies' departure "felt very staged", whilst another accused the Monmouth MP of having "turned up deliberately to make a fuss".

Speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday, First Minister Carwyn Jones said Chris Heaton-Harris' letter was "as authoritarian a request as could possibly be made."

"I suspect this gentleman would have a lot to teach Stalin," he added.

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