Prelude: If you want to vote Brexit, I’m fine with that. I happen to not agree with you, but you are entitled to your opinion and I hope you still read this. I think the quality of the debate in this referendum has been terrible – a race to the bottom of ludicrous statements from both sides. So, as a scientist, a humanist and an optimist, here are my thoughts:
My biggest fear for the EU referendum is not that the UK economy will suffer, or that science will suffer, or that we’ll be worse off as a result of an exit. Those are storms that can be weathered. My biggest fear is that this has become a debate about immigration (particularly in the Labour heartlands). Britain has never been a country that sought to blame others for its ills. On the event of an exit, when the promised prosperity fails to materialise, when there are still no more hospital beds, or school places, or teachers; when we are signed up to an undiluted TTIP because we need to fast-track the illusion that we can trade with the world; when fracking is commonplace because we have lost our European allies who are currently leading the charge on preventing it; my biggest fear is this: Who will we blame next?
The start of the 20th Century in Europe was a tinderbox of feelings of helplessness and persecution by outside powers. Political ambition tapped into those feelings and ultimately it cost a generation in bloodshed. Afterwards, the EU was created to produce stability and peace through cooperation.
There is little doubt that the EU isn’t perfect and needs to move back towards its initial beginnings and away from the promotion of corporate interests above others, but is being held responsible for an awful lot of failings that are the result of poor policy decisions by governments we elected. These are the same governments that are promising to ring in the new Utopia once we are free of EU shackles. Sure, we can vote them out of power if they don’t deliver, but what replaces them? Political disenfranchisement is at an all-time high because the last 20 years would suggest it would be more of the same.
We are entering a time of great uncertainty: My child will likely grow up in a world where antibiotic resistance means that surgery is once again risky and now-treatable diseases are once again killers; where drought induced by climate change causes mass migration of desperate people on a scale that makes current levels look benign. I don’t want to be part of a world where we pull up the drawbridge and try to figure out how to protect ourselves at the expense of others. I want to be part of a world where we pull together as a species and through cooperation solve the global problems that we currently face. That is what we have always done as a nation. It is why our grandparents walked into the abyss at Normandy or Ypres or Jutland. It is why I am proud to be British.