The question of whether Britain should remain part of the European Union (EU) has polarised opinion creating a deep divide. Euro-sceptics play up concerns of immigration and border security, whilst Europhiles point to potential economic catastrophe in the event of an exit. I, along with my fellow UK Vice-Chancellors, fiercely oppose a British withdrawal from the EU. Together, we feel very strongly that we need to stay in Europe. In my mind, it is not just a financial matter. It is also a matter of values.
This concern has been further emphasised recently with a cross-party group, including current and former ministers for universities and science, writing a letter to The Times expressing deep anxiety that a vote to leave the EU would weaken our universities and lessen the positive impact they have internationally.
Universities have always been global – they have never respected borders. The connections into Europe fostered by the EU are enormously valuable, ranging from research funding through to staff and student mobility. Erasmus funded work and study placements enable our students to gain international experience and global networks. Collaborative research with our European colleagues has kept UK Universities high in the world rankings. And access to a deeper pool of highly-skilled and experienced academic and research staff across European countries enhances teaching quality.
The forthcoming referendum signals one of the most important votes we as Europeans will ever have to cast. With that in mind, I would like to share what I believe to be profoundly mistaken beliefs which underpin the arguments to leave the EU; that of identity, sovereignty and immigration.
Let’s start with identity. Some people believe that leaving Europe will result in them ‘getting their identity back’. They do not consider themselves to be Europeans. It is a complex picture, with some concerns based on trumpery, others on genuine angst that their identity is being undermined by migration, legislation or refugees. We all have multiple identities. It is possible to be British, Welsh and European, and we should have no qualms about being Europeans.
EU rules and regulations are just some of many we are bound by – UN regulations, the World Trade Organisation, the Paris climate conference to name a few. As an example, climate change cannot be managed on a case by case basis. We need to work together collectively, through powerful groupings such as the EU
I am Australian. I passed the citizenship test and became British last year, not simply a dual Australian / UK citizen, but also of the 28 EU nations. Transnational European citizenship is unique. It is the first of its kind not based on empire, but on joint interests. We take our holidays, shop online across the channel and have access to health care across Europe. The right to belong to multiple member states is not something that we should take for granted. It is down to hard work, collaboration, dedicated time and process.
Advocates of an exit often claim that it will stop the erosion of the UK’s governance and sovereignty. Boris Johnson talked of regaining sovereignty and managing our own laws, playing on the loathing of regulation and Brussels. But let’s be clear, EU rules and regulations are just some of many we are bound by – UN regulations, the World Trade Organisation, the Paris climate conference to name a few. As an example, climate change cannot be managed on a case by case basis. We need to work together collectively, through powerful groupings such as the EU.
And finally, immigration – one of the arguments often cited by the ‘leave’ campaigners. Of course, countries have a right to decide who they welcome, after all they are looking after the interests of their citizens. It cannot be denied that European policy has its weaknesses and continues to face many challenges. Take the refugee crisis as an example of a set of events which could have been better managed. But it is cases like this which demonstrate why Europe should work together to develop policies and practices and find suitable outcomes. It is not a problem that can be solved by just one country – it needs to be addressed collectively.
To sum up, I firmly believe that we are stronger together. There are enormous advantages of being part of a unique grouping such as the EU. We are better able to fight global issues such as climate change. Free movement provides opportunities for travel, study and sharing of expertise in research fields. As the referendum date edges closer, I do hope that the power of European unity is preserved. Let’s stay not only because Europe offers us so much, but because it is morally right.