During the referendum campaign somebody said to me that he will be voting for the UK to leave the European Union because “I’m sick and tired of a man in Brussels sitting behind a computer telling me what to do”. This statement got me pondering about the chasm between the image of the EU in the eyes of some members of the public and the reality of what the EU is, what it does and how it does it.
In turn, such reflections prompted me to switch from being an interested observer of the EU referendum campaign to actively engaging in a process of informing the general public about how the EU operates. The importance of such work continues post-referendum as the UK embarks on the long and complicated process of negotiating its exit from the EU. The machinations of the EU will clearly have a significant bearing on the details of the EU-UK exit agreement.
Those who support referendums often argue that they provide an opportunity for the public to not only directly engage in the political decision-making process but also to become more informed about the issues at stake. In this sense, these arguments draw succour from the noble ideals behind the participatory democracy of the ancient Greek polis. However, as the EU referendum campaign descended into a depressing farce (see Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof spraying water at each other on the Thames like naughty school children!) and as both the Remain and Leave groups increasingly engaged in making ever more wild claims about the EU and the repercussions of remaining/leaving, there was little opportunity for the public to learn more about the key issues they were being asked to vote on. On the contrary, the public became progressively confused amongst the ‘noise’ of claim and counter-claim being spouted by both sides of the campaign. Following the referendum, the level of ‘noise’ has not dampened as various parties espouse their opinions on the options available to the UK in its exit negotiations with the EU.
As such, a role for impartial, well-researched, evidence-based analysis of the EU has become required more than ever. The value and importance of public engagement for academic experts was clearly highlighted by the nature of the referendum campaign as a means of informing the public of the increasing complexities of the world we live in. In this context, I accepted an invitation from a local discussion group, Coventry Skeptics in the Pub, to provide an open, public and objective talk on the referendum prior to the vote. Below is a video of the talk.
In the talk, I provide an overview of the EU, Britain’s relationship with it and an analysis of the core social, political, legal and economic arguments for and against Britain’s continuing membership. In doing so, I broach key questions such as, what is the EU? Why does it exist? What does it do? What doesn’t it do? What are the models available for the UK post-Brexit? In discussing these issues, I relate to the broader question of whether the concept of sovereignty maintains its relevance in an era of globalisation.