Brexit voters are 'thick': Labour MP comment sparks fury

A Labour MP has been accused of ‘sneering snobbishness of the very worst kind’ for suggesting that Brexit voters were stupid.

Labour MP Barry Sheerman
Labour MP Barry Sheerman

Barry Sheerman sparked fury by claiming that ‘better educated people’ voted Remain in the EU referendum.

In an attack on the intelligence of Brexit voters he also appeared to belittle Wolverhampton’s ‘polytechnic’.

His comments came in response to a letter sent to universities by Conservative whip Chris Heaton-Harris, in which he asked for details about professors teaching on Brexit courses.

Huddersfield MP Mr Sheerman’s remarks have prompted outrage, with Government Chief Whip Gavin Williamson accusing him of being ‘completely out of touch’ with voters from all political backgrounds.

Staunch Brexiteer Mr Heaton-Harris, who studied at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, which is now the University of Wolverhampton, said his letter was sent for research purposes and denied it was an attempt to intimidate lecturers.

Remain backing veteran MP Mr Sheerman, said: “This man who went to Wolverhampton Polytechnic – who does he think he is trying to frighten my university in Huddersfield?

“The truth is that when you look at who voted to Remain, most of them were the better educated people in our country.”

He later tweeted: “Pleased that my comments on link between Brexit support & lower educational attainment has stimulated debate.” He added: “Crystal clear Tory party no longer the nasty party, Brexit has transformed it into the stupid party.”

South Staffordshire MP Mr Williamson said: “This is sneering snobbishness of the very worst kind.

“I find it shocking he would look down the nose of someone who went to university in Wolverhampton.

“His remarks sum up his sheer arrogance and demonstrate how out of touch he is with lifelong Labour voters who voted to leave the EU.”

Government Chief Whip Gavin Williamson

Dudley South Conservative MP Mike Wood, who campaigned to leave the EU, said: “This is exactly the kind of patronising attitude from pro-European Labour MPs that turned off so many traditional Labour voters in my constituency, who could not bring themselves to vote for a party who dismissed the views of more than half of the electorate in the referendum.

“I only have a 2nd class honours degree, so maybe Mr Sheerman doesn’t think I am bright enough to understand the issues that came up in the referendum. In my experience the views I hear from constituents frequently show a better understanding than we sometimes hear expressed in Parliament.”

Sir Bill Cash, the pro-Brexit Conservative MP for Stone, said: “Mr Sheerman is quite clearly living on another planet. His comments are extremely insulting to the 17.4 million British people who voted to leave the European Union.”

Like the University of Wolverhampton, the University of Huddersfield was a polytechnic before it was granted university status in 1992.

Paul Singh, the Conservative councillor for Penn on Wolverhampton council, said: “This man clearly has not been keeping up with any of the changes that have taken place in higher education over the last 30 years. We should not be surprised to hear such shocking and ill informed remarks, considering he clearly believes that anyone who votes the opposite way to him must be thick.”

Former East Midlands MEP Mr Heaton-Harris was accused of ‘idiotic Leninism’ and censorship after it was revealed he had sent the letter to universities.

Jo Johnson, the universities minister, defended him, saying he had requested a list of tutors and their syllabuses because he was interested in the evolution of European thought in a personal capacity.

“Chris has got a very longstanding interest in European affairs and the history of European thought,” he said.

“He was pursuing inquiries of his own that may in time lead to a book on these questions. It was more of an academic inquiry rather than an attempt to constrain the freedom that academics rightly have.”

According to polls, around eight in 10 university staff supported Remain in the EU referendum, prompting claims that many universities are biased against Brexit. Peter Kellner, former president of YouGov polling, claimed Mr Sheerman was factually correct, insisting that there was ‘quite a clear educational gradient’ in the way people voted.

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