So this is going to be my first proper article to do with the EU, specifically a common argument, mainly put forward by the group “Scientists for EU” as a reason for staying in. They say that the EU is crucial for the UK university science funding, certainly the schemes that the EU supports have helped universities a lot. However the suggestion that leaving the EU would result in us losing this science funding is, quite frankly, nonsense.
To start with, the EU science programme (or European Research Area) includes countries like Israel, which has no freedom of movement or free trade deal with the EU. It receives a lot of science funding (far more than it pays in) as a result of being in the ERA. The idea that the UK will be booted out of the ERA for leaving the EU is just stupid. “But ah!” I hear the Europhiles in the audience cry, “you forget that Switzerland has been forced to ratify European treaties supporting free movement of people or lose the EU science funding, so we must stay in the EU”. It amazes me how many times this argument has been used by students at this university. So you’re telling me, that because the EU is blackmailing scientists and nation states with threats of withdrawing their funding, that this is a good reason to stay? This shows the anti-democratic nature of the EU at its finest! Do we really want to stay in an organisation that treats sovereign nations and universities (which should be independent of such things, as research benefits everyone) like this? It suggests to me that the EU is willing to hurt scientific progress for the sake of politics, that it is not an organisation that is pro-science, but rather acts like a tyrannical power, so desperate that it will attempt to cajole and scare people into keeping under its tyranny. The Switzerland science funding case is a case of EU colonialism and contempt of democracy, not a positive story for the EU at all, and certainly an odd case study for pro-EU people to be using.
Regardless, free movement of people is not part of the remit of the ERA, Turkey and Israel have no such free movement, and it certainly hasn’t damaged their funding. In the UK, we have several top universities (including our institution), some of the best facilities, (again some to be found in our institution, particularly the York Chemistry department) and some of the best scientists in the world. That the EU would throw their toys out of their pram and withdraw funding from key institutions trying to deal dealing with many different issues (including, for example, climate change) is bonkers. It makes sense only if we assume the EU to be irrational and vindictive, and if it is either of those things then it doesn’t make sense to stay in. If the EU is really going to oust 5 of the top 20 universities in the world (without the UK it has no universities in the top 20) from its research in the name of politics, then I want no part of it as an institution.
It’s also worth noting that there are many collaborative projects that we have achieved in Europe without the need of the EU at all. Take for example the Swiss-based CERN or the European Space Agency (which recently launched Tim Peake into space from Azerbaijan using a Russian rocket) both of which are nothing to do with the EU at all. We can continue to collaborate and support science throughout Europe and indeed the world as a Sovereign and independent nation, and should not let any scaremongering from an offshoot of “Scientists for Labour” cause us to be taken away.
Thomas Turton is the Secretary of the University of York UKIP Association