EU referendum comments

Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK

As required by the European Union Referendum Act 2015 the Government has issued:

1) The best of both worlds: the United Kingdom's special status in a reformed European Union, Govt Policy Paper 22 Feb 2016


2) Alternatives to membership: possible models for the United Kingdom outside the European Union, Govt Policy Paper, 2nd March 2016

The Foreign Office has also issued:

3) The process for withdrawing from the European Union, Govt Policy Paper, 29 Feb 2016

One interesting aspect of the Act is that it only requires the Government to give information about other "countries" that have relations with the EU. Other trading blocks, such as NAFTA are entirely ignored. The documents seem to me to be tendentious and very repetitive. To me they read as if they were the results of a brainstorming session by a bunch of junior civil servants supplied with copious liquid refreshment. Objective, dispassionate, documents they are not. I have commented in detail on (3), but also on (1) and (2):


The government Brexit Deal website offers the official view of the withdrawal deal

The final withdrawal agreement is available here.

The EU joint statement is available here.

The political declaration on the future relationship is available here.


Comments on the campaign

Sun 11 Nov 2018 Postscript
In the roughly 28 months since the referendum it has become clear that the people active on the leave side were politically naïve. They seemed to have thought that winning the referendum was the end of the battle and that leaving the EU would then be an automatic matter. They didn't seem to notice that the key people who would be implementing the decision - the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, a majority of the Cabinet, a majority of MPs, most Civil Servants, and a large majority of journalists reporting and commentating on the matter (especially broadcast journalists) - were overwhelmingly pro Remain.

Because of the Brexiteers' failure to continue the campaign with the same vigour after the referendum as before it, the Remainers have been able to establish an orthodoxy of view that we should negotiate an agreement with the EU that keeps us tied as closely to them as possible, while at the same time paying a kind of lip service to the referendum result by appearing to suggest that that counts as leaving the EU.

It has now become commonly asserted in the public debate, without any effective challenge, that there is no mandate for a 'no deal' outcome; and leaving the EU is often referred to as "crashing out". For example, in The Sunday Times [11-11-2018], Sir Keir Starmer, who is Labour's shadow secretary for exiting the EU, asserts "There is no mandate for a no deal. The vast majority of MPs will not countenance it."

In fact the opposite is the case. There was no mandate at all for negotiating any kind of 'deal' with the EU, especially of the kind that Remainers are wanting. Remainers have conveniently put to one side the historical circumstances in which the vote took place. The referendum happened in a context in which David Cameron had tried to negotiate a deal with the EU that might give us a new relationship with them; and the EU clearly demonstrated its unwillingness to enter into such negotiations. The package that he returned with fell a long way short of Leavers' expectations and hence the referendum took place in the context that essentially failed negotiations with the EU had taken place. The conclusion that voters drew from this was that the country should then leave the EU. The campaign was largely about being free from EU regulations (especially about having control over our own borders), not contributing funds to the EU, being able to control fishing in our own territorial waters, and being able to trade independently with other countries around the world.

To interpret this referendum campaign, and vote, as a mandate to seek an agreement with the EU that ties us to their customs union is a perverse interpretation of how the country voted. That the Remainers' view seems to have become the new orthodoxy is a remarkable distortion of the truth, and one of which Dr Goebbels would have been proud.

The problem has been that the Leavers have not understood that, to adapt a much used phrase about liberty, the price of democracy is eternal vigilance. They seem not to have been willing to pay that price.

Mon 25 July Brexit means Brexit
Theresa May's assertion that "Brexit means Brexit" seems to be an unambiguous assertion that we will leave the EU. However there still seems to be uncertainty about whether some middle ground will be negotiated. It seems to me that 'leaving the EU' necessarily involves three conditions:
  1. We would not continue to contribute to EU funds
  2. We would acquire permanent control of our borders - i.e. we would not have to accept people we did not want
  3. We would be free to choose which EU decisions we wanted to implement and embody in our laws
Whatever arrangements are negotiated, any violation of these principles could not count as 'Brexit'

Tue 21 June It has been a strange campaign. There has inevitably been lying and dissimulation on both sides, though it seems to me quite wrong that the Government has brazenly used the civil servants to promote Remain misinformation. David Cameron has not come out of it particularly well. His contradictory positions and deception have made him appear to be the Tony Blair of the Conservative Party. I don't see how he can hang on long, even if there is a Remain win. A Remain win seems now to be the most likely result, with 'don't knows' ultimately voting for what they think is the safe option.

A great deal of twaddle has also been said and written. I've already mentioned Baroness Warsi, today The Times gave us Henry Winter on "Why my 30 years of covering football in Europe has convinced me to vote Remain". In his piece Winter talks about all the splendid experiences he has had in Europe, and he concludes "All these experiences will remain on offer, of course, and European football will continue, but why cast a vote against the people of Europe?" He clearly doesn't understand any of the issues that have been raised during the campaign - what an idiot.

Mon 20 June The headline in The Times is puzzling. It is about Baroness Warsi 'walking out' of the 'Brexit camp' and a suggestion that, as a result, the 'Brexit camp' is divided. Baroness Warsi, a political non-entity, was not known to have been active in organising the Brexit campaign, so how she can been seen as "defecting to the Remain campaign" is a puzzle. Even more of a puzzle is the claimed reason for her defection, namely that she was protesting against the nature of the Leave campaign ("hate and xenophobia"), rather than its objectives (leaving the EU). It's quite bizarre to make a truly important decision about the future of the UK and its membership of the EU based on the way part of the campaign is being conducted. It comes over as a put up job, with No 10's fingers all over it. I remember Baroness Warsi for her role in the AV referendum, during which she went around spreading lies about the nature of the AV system.

The temporary suspension of campaigning after the murder of Jo Cox, MP for Batley & Spen, will have been a welcome relief for the Remain campaign. In times of crisis people tend to rally to the Government; also, as the Leave campaign seemed to have the momentum, the absence of the Leave message over the weekend will only have enhanced the status quo.

Wed 15 June Newsnight's focus on Labour's problems in trying to get the Remain message across to Labour supporters shows just how much of a swing there has been in the campaign towards the Leave option. The Labour campaign is now probably too late to make much of an impact, especially now that much attention has switched to the UEFA football competition. One wonders what the effect on voting would be if UEFA followed up on its threat to exclude England from the tournament if there was more violence among the fans.

The Remain side really doesn't seem to have anything positive to say about staying in the EU. The strategy of fear is all they seem to have in their locker. George Osborne has now threatened an emergency budget containing all kinds of dire provisions. It's a pity he didn't discuss the possibility of this in his last budget statement, it would have looked less of a panic measure. I'm increasingly getting the impression that, whatever happens, Cameron and Osborne are finished. Theresa May has been very quiet - presumably any leadership contest will mainly be between her and Boris Johnson.

A Leave decision is looking more likely now, and even the EU officials are starting to formulate their response. If the outcome is Leave, I just hope that the people involved, including those here in the UK, don't make any rash decisions that will be regretted later. It's a move that needs to be considered carefully.

Fri 10 June The second ITV debate was interesting. My feeling was that the Leave people did best. I think Remain made a mistake with their selection of participants. They were shrill and aggressive at times and none came over with any warmth. It was also a bit odd to see Nicola Sturgeon a 'Leave the UK' campaigner in Scotland arguing on the 'Remain in the EU' side - not illogical, but I think it may have come over as odd to many people. They also made the mistake of attacking Boris Johnson personally (though he had the good sense not to respond) and Conservative government policies, instead of focusing on the wider EU issues. Any attack on the Conservative goverment is an attack on Cameron, who is leading the Remain campaign, so that's a bit like shooting yourself in the foot. Angela Eagle seemed rather weak at times - it's not clear to me why people speak of her as a possible Labour leader. The Leave representatives, especially Gisela Stuart and Andrea Leadson, were clear and got their message across well.

The extension of the period for voter registration because the website crashed is very strange. While it is good for democracy that as many people as possible should vote, I'm not sure we should be pandering to laziness by changing a legally agreed timetable just because a lot of people left registration until the last minute.

Wed 8 Jun The ITV debate between Cameron and Farage seemed to me to be pretty even, although I think Cameron had slightly easier questions and less aggressive questioners than Farage, so I was a bit surprised to see the somewhat negative press comments about Farage's performance. The Times said "Farage uses TV contest to renew sex attack claim". In fact, he talked about it because he was asked questions about it, so the implication that he exploited the opportunity to talk about it is absurd. I should think Farage would have been happier had the matter not been raised. The Times writers were clearly revealing their biases; but then The Times has been going downhill for some time.

Sun 5 June

It seems to me that in the first of the major debates (Cameron vs Gove, on Sky) the Leave campaign increased its momentum.

Cameron keeps on referring to the time it has taken for Canada to make a trade deal with the EU, without mentioning that Canada is not as important a trading partner of the EU as we are, and he seems to imply that because the deal with Canada took a long time, all other trading deals with all other countries will also take that long, completely ignoring the fact that these would be one-to-one negotiations and not one-to-28. The Government has also exaggerated the time the Canada deal has taken. According to the Canadian Government the negotiations started in May 2009 and concluded in Sept 2014 - five years and 4 months.

One of the Remain side's main platforms involves the Argument from Authority. It argues that because hundreds of economists predict that we will be worse off if we leave the EU, people should vote Remain. The absurdity of this is obvious. We don't even know whether these 'economists' are all experts in international trade and macro economics and have studied the relevant literature, nor whether their opposition to Brexit is based on sound economic arguments, rather than being based on their own political ideology. No to mention the fact that economists have had a very very poor record in their predictions about other major events, such as the issue of the exchange rate mechanism, and of whether to join the euro, and the difficulties we faced in 2008. Nobody can reliably forecast the future, and that is just as true if we remain in the EU. As a member of the EU our economy has done better than the other EU countries. There is no reason to think that, outside the EU, we would do worse than them.

David Cameron says that the EU provides peace and stability but never explains what the mechanism is whereby it achieves that. As far as I can see, there can only be two possible mechanisms. (1) that trade per se prevents war between nations, and (2) the unifying tendency at the political and governmental level prevents war. As far as trade is concerned, that didn't stop the First World War, and most wars seem to be over issues that trump trade considerations. As far as unification of the countries in the EU is concerned, even he would be against that and it is anyway totally impractical. Also, Cameron has not explained in what respect NATO has been deficient in keeping the peace in Europe.

The worrying aspect of what Cameron said in the debate - something that has gone largely unreported - is that he would trigger the provisions of Article 50 immediately after it became clear that people had voted for Brexit. This is worrying because it isn't necessarily in Britain's interests to do that straightaway. We would need time for our own political situation to stabilise (there would almost certainly be a new government) and we would need time for the governmental machine to evolve a detailed strategy, and time for diplomacy prior to negotiations under Article 50. By invoking this article, Cameron is putting a two year time limit on the process of negotiating with the EU. The worst that could happen here is that he might invoke the article and then resign, or be forced out, thus committing the next PM to the two year timetable, and so weakening Britain's position.

The main weakness on the Leave side seems to me to have been the issue of the £350m. This has been very badly explained and there has been some dishonesty over it. Presumably what they are trying to say is that each week £350m becomes due to the EU. We get a rebate and some grants from the EU, but these are not payments that are guaranteed to us, and in the future they might be reduced or cease altogether. Faisal Islam did a rather poor job in interviewing Michael Gove on this issue. When it was mentioned, Gove claimed that we actually sent more than £360m each week, yet Islam failed to make him explain this. Islam seemed more interested in generating confrontational entertainment than exploring the nature of Gove's argument.

Islam argued that Gove was not giving the details of what the economy would look like if we left the EU, but we are also not being given the details of what the economy would look like if we remained in the EU. There's a good reason for this. No one can predict the future.

Overall, the Leave campaign seemed to emerge better from these debates. With Cameron, even the audience laughed at him. Cameron is not the best person to be leading the Remain campaign, and some voters will undoubtedly be voting against him, rather than on the specific issue.

Mon 23 May

The Remain campaign seems to have taken leave of its senses, with each successive pronouncement on the consequences of Brexit becoming more and more dire. Cameron and Osborne are seeming to be predicting the end of the world (even some of the TV journalists are starting to snigger) - yet if you look at the analysis on which their statements are based you can see that their own figures show that the negative effects would be tiny. They are less than we have experienced in recent years, and assume that the government would undertake no corrective action. It's all in the assumptions. And let's not forget that none of the bodies making these dire predictions has, historically, been any good at predicting. None of them predicted the severe problems we had a few years ago, and they were all wrong about the consequences of not joining the euro.

This is all in stark contrast to Cameron's position in November 2015 when he was saying:

"Some people seem to say that really Britain couldn't survive, couldn't do OK outside the European Union. I don't think that is true"
"Let's be frank, Britain is an amazing country. We've got the fifth biggest economy in the world. We're a top ten manufacturer. We've got incredibly strong financial services. The world wants to come and do business here."
"Look at the record of inward investment. Look at the leaders beating the path to our door to come and see what's happening with this great country's economy. The argument isn't whether Britain could survive outside the EU. Of course it could."   [Various sources, e.g. Independent 9 Nov 2015]

There is open laughter about Cameron's reference to the possibility of World War Three. Perhaps he should say which country he thinks would attack which other country if we left the EU, or if the EU did not exist.

The credibility of the Remain campaign is diminishing, yet there does not seem to be any corresponding surge in the Leave campaign. Perhaps the Brexiteers are leaving their main push until after the Government has published all its documents, the deadline for which is 27th May

The interesting story over the weekend, which doesn't seem to have had any impact, is The Sunday Telegraph's lead story that there exists a 'secret' government document (which reporters claim to have seen) that argues that the attitude of other EU countries towards free trade is costing Britain £2.5billion per year in lost trade. I'm surprised that it hasn't featured in today's TV news, and that there aren't calls from the Leave campaign for it to be published.

Fri 20 May

The first two weeks after the local elections have been quieter than I expected, and the Leave campaign seem to have lost some ground. We, in West Wales, finally received our pamphlet on why the Government wants us to stay in the EU - wrapped inside a Co-op leaflet advertising its groceries. It nearly got thrown in the bin.

In these politically frenetic and over-correct days, when any reference to Hitler automatically makes the speaker 'anti-semitic', it was unwise of Boris Johnson to mention Hitler when he was trying to make the broad historical point that previous attempts to unite europe always resulted in failure. While it cannot be denied that some of the people who were prominent in the early moves towards the EU had been part of the erstwhile Nazi regime, Johnson was clearly not making any direct connection between Hitler and the EU - merely making the point that attempts to unite europe are always likely to fail.

One could actually go further, and suggest theoretical reasons why an EU that encompasses the whole of europe might fail. The theorist William Riker observed in his book The Theory of Political Coalitions that coalitions of the whole do not last. There is an argument to say that the EU has already become too large and unwieldy, embracing the majority of European states, with others seeking to enter. There are already significant sections of public opinion in most countries that are unhappy with the EU, and a British exit from the EU could trigger the collapse of the system.

The IMF continues to support George Osborne's analysis of the problems that would ensue if Britain left the EU. This isn't surprising since all these organisations want the EU to survive for political reasons, and one shouldn't forget that Osborne's support for Lagarde was important in her getting the IMF job. Lagarde says she has not seen anything positive about the Brexit economic case. This is hardly surprising since the analyses by the Remain side have been rigged to produce negative results. The Treasury modelling, it has emerged, has made assumptions that are guaranteed to produce a negative picture of the situation after Brexit. For example, according to a group of leading economists the Treasury model assumes, in its WTO option analysis, that Britain would keep the highest level of EU barriers currently in place, which is highly unlikely [The Times, 20 May]. If you relax this assumption, there would be a 4% rise in GDP after Brexit.

Other statistics have been found to be suspect, and official migration figures have been shown to have been an under-estimate. While the situation between Greece and Turkey is currently relatively quiet, any breakdown in the EU migration arrangement before the referendum could weaken the Remain position considerably.

Mon 18 April

HM Treasury has 'worked out' that if we leave the EU the economy will shrink by 6.2% by the year 2030: that is, 0.41% per year over a 15 year period.

2030. This is the same HM Treasury that can't normally forecast one year's growth rate with any great accuracy. Independent forecasts, too, commonly differ by as much as 1.0%. Even if you make assumptions about the kinds of trade deals we might make, you cannot know how the world economy will develop in that 15-year period nor, necessarily, know what unexpected events will occur that might improve or harm the economy. The prediction is completely worthless: 'Project Fear' again.

The figure George Osborne is promoting is based on a Canadian-type arrangement. It is worth noting that the Treasury predicts that a Norwegian type of arrangement would lead to a lesser shrinkage of 0.25% per year.

Also, who knows what the state of the EU economy will be in 2030? If it shrinks by more than 0.25% per year, the Treasury seems to be saying that we'd be better off out of the EU.

Sat 16 April

George Osborne's claim that mortgages will go up if there is a Brexit vote is not generally regarded as being as inevitable as he tried to portray it; but even if they do, I remember the time when the mortgage rate was over 7% for a while, and we managed. The problem with many of these claims is that they might be true in the short term - but we'll get over it. One of the real problems we have is that our politicians, especially those on the Remain side, are only concerned about the short term. The Brexit view is that in the long run we'd be better off. Focusing on short-term mortgage rates is just a part of 'project fear'.

It seems to me always to be a mistake to make claims that are not bullet-proof. The Brexit claim that we would have £350m a week to spend, perhaps on the NHS, was a mistake. They really should have given a net figure, taking into account rebates and the aid we receive. This might have seemed a less impressive claim, but at least it would not have been vulnerable to attack. There is some uncertainty about the precise net figure, but it seems to be around £161m. This is not an insubstantial amount.

Fri 15 April Jeremy Corbyn's position on the EU is not convincing. Having been against the EU in the past, his new stance doesn't cut a great deal of ice. It looks more like a position taken for internal political reasons within the Labour Party. It will be interesting to watch his role in the campaign. It probably won't involve him in campaigning shoulder-to-shoulder with David Cameron, and may not be that effective.

Wed 13 April

In its World Economic Outlook, April 2016, the IMF has made its disapproval of Brexit clear. This position is perhaps not surprising, given that George Osborne supported Christine Lagarde for the position of IMF Managing Director, and given her commitment to the EU, and to maintaining the Euro. However, the IMF comments do seek to emphasise the power that Britain has in the world economy. It says that a Brexit could do "severe regional and global damage".

Really? Global damage? One implication of this is not good for the Remain argument, namely that if the UK economy really is that important in the world, it should be seen as being strong enough to exist independently, outside the EU.

The IMF also makes the same point as UK Government documents: assuming that Brexit will cause uncertainty, but staying in the EU will not. It says:

"Negotiations on postexit arrangements would likely be protracted, resulting in an extended period of heightened uncertainty that could weigh heavily on confidence and investment, all the while increasing financial market volatility"

On the other hand, it advocates the kind of process that has fuelled the move to leave the EU:

"policy actions to support the integration of migrants into the labour force are crucial to allay concerns about social exclusion and long-term fiscal costs, while unlocking the potential long-term economic benefits of refugee inflows."

Bizarrely, it doesn't see this as involving uncertainty or instability.

It also appears to support further erosion of the sovereignty of individual European states when it says:

"The European Union also needs a more effective economic governance framework - including outcome-based structural reform benchmarks, effective use of EU legislation, and full use of Stability and Growth Pact flexibility for structural reforms."

Though with this kind of international mandarin-speak, it is hard to pin down the meaning with any precision.

Tue 7 April

If your average tin-pot African dictator calls an election and restricts what the opposition can spend on the campaign, while having unlimited resources for his own campaign, people in the West would characterise the election as grossly unfair. Such a thing would be unheard of in the UK, surely. Or would it? Isn't this exactly what is happening in the EU referendum?

We have the absurd situation in which the Electoral Commission does not recognise the Government as a registered campaigner. It regards any departmental spending as supporting Ministers in carrying out 'government business'. Yet the Prime Minister explicitly says that the government is "not neutral" in the referendum - i.e. it is campaigning wholly on one side of the argument. Government business is promoting the Remain position. What concept of fairness this is consistent with is unclear.

Only after 27th May is the government restricted in what it can publish, so the Government is free, today, to publish a leaflet promoting EU membership and costing £9 million (some of that, of course, coming from the taxes of people who favour Brexit). It will be interesting to see whether the Electoral Commission intervenes at any point - if, for example, the Government were (after 27th May) to announce Remain endorsements by foreign leaders or other celebrities. It will also be interesting to see whether Government websites are updated with pro-EU material during this period. I am somewhat surprised that there have been no threats of legal action on this matter, but the 'Leave' campaigners seem to have run a pretty tame campaign so far. It was a real tactical error, in 2015, not to have spelled out clearly what aspects of the EU they thought were unsatisfactory, so that they could have demonstrated more forcefully the weakness of the package that Cameron eventually produced.

Mon 28 March

Another foreign intervention in the referendum campaign, this time by David Patraeus. However, his contribution doesn't quite add up to a rebuttal of Sir Richard Dearlove's argument. Patraeus suggests that "a Brexit would deal a significant blow to the EU's strength and resilience at exactly the moment when the West is under attack from multiple directions." In other words it is the EU that might be weakened, not the UK. It is convenient for the Americans to be able to deal with 'Europe' as a bloc and his remarks can be seen as part of this simplified world view. David Patraeus is a retired US General and Director of the CIA, who was accused of lying to the FBI and violating a section of the Espionage Act; in the end a deal was done whereby he admitted that he improperly removed and retained highly sensitive information in eight personal notebooks, containing code words for secret intelligence programs, the identities of covert officers, and information about war strategy and deliberative discussions with the National Security Council, that he gave to his biographer and former mistress. He was sentenced to two years of probation and fined $100,000. (Washington Post)

Fri 25 March

It is a long-established principle of thought control that if you make a false assertion often enough people will start to believe it to be true. One topic that has surfaced recently is that of intelligence and security. Both David Cameron and Theresa May have asserted several times that leaving the EU would make us less safe and would compromise our ability to gather intelligence. This is simply untrue, and the aftermath of recent attacks in Belgium has demonstrated how poor the security operations of some European countries are and how inadequate the exchange of intelligence among them is. Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6 (Britain's secret intelligence service) has recently argued that quitting the EU would involve very low costs and some important security gains.

In practice intelligence is not shared across all 28 EU countries, and those countries who have an interest in sharing information, and who could do it securely, would continue to do so. So no matter how fiercely and how often Theresa May agues we would be less secure outside the EU, we just won't be. Who do you think understands intelligence and security matters better: a former head of the security services or Theresa May and David Cameron? That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

Mon 14 March

It looks as though the Government is arranging for President Obama to visit the UK during the 'Referendum Period' in order to get him to endorse the Remain campaign. Interesting questions about this are what will the cost of the visit be, and will this be seen by the Electoral Commission as campaign spending? Unless the Government is registered as a registered campaigner, it is limited to £10,000 of spending. The EC's list of who is eligible to register does not include government departments. Can one organise a presidential visit for as little as £10,000? Or is the Government not subject to the laws that apply to the rest of us?

In any event, as Boris Johnson has pointed out, an endorsement by Obama would be an act of considerable hypocrisy, since the USA would never contemplate giving up one iota of sovereignty under any circumstances. So the visit could backfire and be seen as yet more meddling by foreign leaders in our electoral process.

Fri 11 March

So, what do you think of it so far?

A major problem has been the fact that lead campaigns have not been designated by the Electoral Commission, and will not be until 14th April, so the Government will have had two months campaigning against a fragmented 'Leave' campaign. Given that the timetable for this could have been sorted out and agreed by Parliament earlier, one has to see this as a deliberate ploy by the Government to disadvantage the 'Leave' campaign.

Since the date for the referendum was announced, we have seen various figures popping up and supporting the Remain campaign. The problem has been, and no doubt will continue to be, the mealy-mouthed expressions that are used - undeniable, but uninformative. President Hollande said "There will be consequences", without spelling out what these will be. Of course there will be consequences, but we need to be told what they are; otherwise it will just be seen as part of the move to frighten people into remaining. It would seem that foreign leaders are not going to hold back on this. The long-standing convention that politicians from one country don't interfere in the electoral processes of another country seems to be weakening. Perhaps when Hollande is next up for election we should return the compliment.

How far the Foreign Office is involved in organising anti-Brexit statements is not clear, but Sir Peter Westmacott, a former ambassador, wrote a piece in The Sunday Times on 6th March in which he tried to argue that Brexit could be seen as as sign that we have given up on being a global player. How immersing ourselves in an ineffective regional organisation (cf migration policy, foreign policy, etc.) enhances or maintains our global position is not clear. The more we are committed to the EU the more likely it is that in the long run we shall have to concede our seat on the Security Council to the EU. It is also not clear that the other countries of the EU have enhanced their positions as 'global players' by virtue of their EU membership.

The Governor of the Bank of England is an official who ought to remain impartial but who has made his support for Remain clear in a session with the Treasury Committee on 8th March. He referred to the risks and uncertainty involved in an exit vote, though he had to concede there were risks associated with staying when pressed by MPs. This is a point that so far has been ignored or played down in the debate. The way in which the EU changes over time cannot be predicted, and it is a risk that the changes will be adverse. It is, after all, the fact that the EU has changed significantly and unexpectedly since we joined that has prompted the widespread disquiet about it, and thus the referendum. This is aside from the risks associated with a possible collapse of the Euro Zone, and changes that would occur if other countries joined or left. The prospect of Turkey becoming a member should be regarded as a major future risk.

The most bizarre event thus far has been the claim by The Sun (8th March) that the Queen favoured Brexit. This claim was made on the basis of some reported criticism by her of the EU at a dinner. What The Sun is happy to ignore is that it cannot infer support for Brexit from any given criticism of the EU. Everybody has criticisms of the EU. It seems from this episode that The Sun will itself be advocating Brexit.

Scientists have also been pronouncing on the referendum, with over 150 writing to The Times (10 March) arguing that we should remain in the EU in order to benefit from financial support and to be able to maintain the free movement of scientists. This letter offers only broad assertions of opinion, rather than the detailed arguments that one might expect from scientists. There is no mention of the impact of EU directives on the conduct of science. Some have argued, with specific examples, that these directives often hinder science. As far as funding is concerned, the European Research Council (the main funding body) supports "individual researchers of any nationality and age who wish to pursue their frontier research", according to its website. It funds projects throughout the EU Member States and the associated countries. The latter include Norway, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Israel, Moldova, Faroe Islands, and Ukraine, so it's not obvious that we would be excluded from this if we left. Further, the major research organisations, such as CERN and the European Space Agency are funded by the participant governments, and not by the EU. On the issue of free movement, no one on the Brexit side is advocating preventing individual scientists from moving around, they are advocating controls on mass migration. Good scientists will always move to where good science is being done.

Richard Kimber


Comments on the UK Referendum on EU membership
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Last Modified: 27 Nov 18

This page contains comments that are relevant to the forthcoming United Kingdom in - out referendum on EU membership following the conclusion of negotiations on reforming the European Union or changing Britain's terms of EU membership to be held in the UK some time before the end of 2017.