David Cameron’s promise to hold an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU is a major and dangerous gamble. With the referendum date set, there will now be a vote in the not too distant future. As Cameron is campaigning for remain he obviously does not wish to be the PM who was responsible for Brexit, but, ultimately, he has little control over what will happen. He does not even have control over his own party, with even several cabinet members openly in favour of the UK leaving the EU. Ukip will undoubtedly also do its best to make a case in favour of Brexit, and cast its arguments in populist scaremongering, as we have come to know.
The potential consequences of Brexit are significant. At a time when the world becomes more and more globalized, it is a particularly short-sighted view to pursue an agenda that may yield short-term political gains for the Conservatives, but will, in the long term, contribute to many problems for the UK (some of the key issues are set out here).
The debate concerning immigration from the EU was the main focus during the election campaign, but that is misleading: there is much more to the EU than immigration, though the idea of the free movement of people is a critical pillar. The key point to make is that the immigration debate arguments is commonly populist in nature, often misinformed, and largely one-sided. While the case is made, for instance, that immigrants from Europe are a problem, the British living in Europe are rarely ever mentioned.
What is more: rarely are the wider achievements of the EU mentioned. Since the end of World War II, the EU and its predecessors have been responsible for peace and relative prosperity in Europe. That is a significant and simply marvellous achievement that has no match anywhere in the world.
At the same time we recognize that it is important not to view the EU with rose-tinted spectacles. There clearly are many problems that need to be resolved, and there have to be reforms.
But we also say that these reforms must be agreed and delivered by the EU as a whole. The idea of renegotiation is fundamentally flawed. The EU is not, and never should be, about getting the ‘best deal’ for one of the countries that is a member. Once that happens, the EU is dead. It is worth remembering that it was Winston Churchill who, after WWII, called for a United States of Europe, in his famous ‘Speech to the academic youth’ held at the University of Zurich in 1946:
There is a remedy which … would in a few years make all Europe … free and … happy. It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.
From an academic perspective there are specific concerns about Brexit. As University leaders rightly set out in an open letter that was published last year:
- Britain’s universities are national assets which contribute £73 billion to the economy and they drive innovation and growth. The UK’s membership of the European Union is central to that success and to universities’ positive impact on the economy and society.
- The UK benefits directly from £1.2 billion annually in European research funding and is the largest beneficiary of EU research funds to universities. This supports UK-based research and transnational research projects which pool knowledge to solve social and economic challenges in a way that no country acting alone could do.
- EU programmes facilitate the mobility of researchers, staff and students, providing opportunities for young people and contributing to the excellence of our research base. EU structural funds invest in British skills and infrastructure to deliver local economic growth and support university-business collaboration.
So, please join the call for the UK to remain a member of the EU. Become an Academic for Europe.
So long as you can agree to say #Yes2EU, you’re who we are looking for! You can become a supporter here, or share your reasons for supporting the UK’s EU memebership.
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