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The EU Referendum: In conversation

Britain goes to the polls on June 23rd to decide whether it should leave or remain in the European Union. In this article, researchers from each of our four faculties highlight some of the pro-leave and pro-remain discussions relating to their different academic disciplines.

June 2016

Brexit EU Scrabble

Head of Mental Health & Wellbeing at Warwick Medical School, Professor Swaran Singh, on Brexit's possible impact on healthcare

"Ideas about leaving or staying in the EU from a healthcare perspective centre around the future of the NHS. Its annual spend is about £100bn and will increase in line with inflation. By 2020, there will still be a shortfall of about £30 billion but the cost-improvement and efficiency savings will only save about £22 billion at best, leaving a shortfall of £8 billion. Leave campaigners claim that when rebates, subsidies and grants are taken into account, Britain pays £8 billion overall to the EU each year, which they argue could be spent on the NHS instead, making up the shortfall. Remain activists claim that NHS funding is dependent upon the state of the economy and believe Brexit will lead to an economic downturn, which in turn will profoundly affect the overall spending on the NHS. The same arguments apply to research, where Britain is the largest recipient of EU research funding.

"Freedom of movement means that NHS can recruit much-needed staff for the NHS, but immigration increases demands on our health services. While the UK is allowed to recoup costs for treating EU nationals within the NHS, the amount the NHS recoups appears to be falling, even as immigrant numbers are increasing. There is an estimated £600 million annual shortfall in what the NHS spends on EU nationals and what it is owed by the EU.

"It is impossible to know the impact of either option, remain or leave, on the NHS, and we can only speculate; the future is not a fact. It’s possible to say that whether Britain votes to stay or leave, we might be making a mistake."

Professor Nigel Driffield of WBS on British trade

"In order to understand the impact that Brexit would have on UK manufacturing, one has to think not in terms of “this firm” or “that firm” but in terms of supply chains, that cross not just countries, but continents. Many of the most important value chains in terms of UK manufacturing are highly integrated across several European countries. As a result many UK firms and their suppliers are at risk of being less attractive partners in these chains if trade between the UK and the EU becomes more difficult. This means not just trade costs, but the ease of coordinating activities, which is why big business likes trade blocs. Some argue that with the likely devaluation of sterling following Brexit, small UK exporters may be better able to export, not just to the EU but to the rest of the world. This however depends on whether the devaluation also increases their costs, given that 50% of the UK's exports rely on imported components."

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WMG's Professor Janet Godsell examines the possible effects of leaving and remaining in the EU on pork supply chains

"I recently had the pleasure of visiting Co. Armagh in Northern Ireland to understand the pork supply chain. My visit started at an exemplary modern pig farming business where high animal welfare standards were evident, and the standards of cleanliness in particular were amazing. The UK are a nation of animal lovers, and this love extends beyond our domestic pets to farmed animals. This love has helped to ensure that the UK has higher animal welfare standards that the rest of the EU and the UK has campaigned hard to try and get the EU to adhere to UK standards. They have almost succeeded, but there is a gap.

"Raising UK pigs to a higher animal welfare standard has a cost. This would be fine if UK consumers were happy to pay a higher price for UK pork products, in particular bacon. Bacon is a staple of the UK diet, yet it is one of the parts of the pig that processors have most difficulty selling. Heads went to China, trotters to Eastern Europe, ribs to the US, but processors were having more difficulty finding a market for the prime cut of loins. This is because many UK consumers prefer the cheaper price of EU bacon from pigs with lower animal welfare standards. Indeed ‘Danish’ is a word synonymous with bacon. So what will change after the referendum? The supply of bacon is likely to remain the same. I have a vision of pigs at a border crossing between the ROI and NI, waving their passports in their trotters to be let in. But could this actually be a good thing for UK pig farmers if a tariff is added to EU imports, making them more expensive? Or will the current trading terms remain and the only potential change be the border crossing?"

Professor Dora Kosta discusses EU Law in the light of the referendum

"In the 21st century, European polities are compound republics and this compounding is unlikely to be reversed, partly because issues, challenges and problems are transnational. Compounding also increases respect for the rule of law, reduces ‘dominocracy’ (the power of elected majorities) and leaves a more circumscribed space for governments ‘behaving badly’. Pro-remain adherents would argue that leaving the European ‘pactum unionis’ would mean a return to a world in which democracy and accountability become again equated with national sovereignty, closure and non-intervention. They argue that this forecloses the possibility of further democratisation in practices and institutions, by reducing the possibilities for citizens to hold their leaders to account, by utilising norms and rules ‘higher up’. Pro-leave advocates argue that affirming the primacy of everything national will benefit national executives who would be able to shield their rule from the checks and balances that the EU send their way."

Lucy Hatton of Politics and International Studies, on 'sovereignty'

"From a pro-Brexit perspective, a vote to leave the EU will lead to a positive change to the political life in Britain. If the UK cut all ties with the EU, the UK government would regain sovereignty over certain policy areas that are currently delegated to the EU, such as trade policy and fisheries policy. Many Brexit campaigners want to cut what they see as 'red tape' that has been imposed by bureaucrats in Brussels and is restricting prosperity. They argue that the EU is undemocratic, so a vote to leave the EU means that laws that we have to abide by will be made closer to the people, both geographically and in terms of the influence citizens can have: political life in Britain outside of the EU will be more democratic and the UK will have complete control over the laws that govern it.

"On the other hand, from a remain campaign point of view, the EU is not lacking democracy, since UK citizens are directly represented in the European Parliament and indirectly represented in the European Council and the Council of Ministers. Anti-Brexit campaigners would emphasise that the influence we have within the EU's institutions is equal to or greater than that of the other EU member states, so they reject the argument that political life in the UK would be more democratic if we left the EU. Policy areas in which the UK has delegated some sovereignty to the EU, like trade and fisheries, are, it is argued, better when legislated at the EU level where cooperation between states can be guaranteed and the member states can work together to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. For a Remain campaigner, therefore, political life in the UK would change for the worse if the UK left the EU."

polling_card.jpgPolitics and Internaitonal Studies Professor Wyn Grant considers Brexit's potential impact on farming

"Leaving the EU would put at risk the subsidies that farmers receive and which for many of them make the difference between a profit and a loss. It is also doubtful whether it would be possible to reduce regulations as much as some farmers hope. However, some farmers think that outside the EU it would be possible to develop a distinctive agricultural policy more attuned to British needs and that there would be greater opportunities for product innovation."

Professor Seán Hand, Head of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, discusses possible impact on student experience

"Thousands of students of many different subjects each year benefit from the EU’s Erasmus programme. The reputational value and research success of a university is often dependent on its place on the European academic stage. Access to European funding and collaboration with European counterparts can enable research projects to come into being. Pro Brexit campaigners dismiss these arguments as self-interested reasons to remain in the European Union and hope for a more independent British academic community.

"Pro-remain advocates hope that outward-facing graduates, educated 'within Europe' will join the next generation of influencers who, from within the EU, can support positive policy-making which is not simply utopian, but is often linked to real improvements in education, housing, health and the environment. I am mindful of how the EU from the beginning has been driven by a human rights agenda that can enjoin individual countries to develop fuller responsibility, based on a common culture of freedom of thought and expression. Students of language and cultures, who obtain a broad and relevant understanding of different cultural viewpoints and their modes of expression, can contribute to such political and social collaboration."

europe_underground.jpgProfessor Judith Klein of WMS considers Brexit and medical research funding and quality

"I am a Professor at WMS, but my salary is funded by the EU through a Marie Curie Incoming International Fellowship (IIF). The IIF is awarded to individuals from countries outside of Europe (in my case the USA) to work and undertake research in Europe in order to develop mutually-beneficial research co-operation. The call for proposals is open to undertake research in any country of the EU, but the UK has the largest number of fellows. This is only one of many funding schemes that are only possible if the UK is a member of the EU, and schemes such as these attract top researchers to the UK. Of course, UK money contributes to the EU budget, so it’s fair to argue that the UK could just develop or boost their own, UK-specific, funding schemes. However, it is likely that the economic penalty of leaving the EU would decrease the extent and number of funding opportunities to attract top researchers to the UK. The UK would lose access to valuable resources including Horizon2020 funding. But it's not only about funding, membership of the EU is also about an exchange of people, their ideas and cultures. and research cannot excel without this exchange. This ultimately could affect patient care quality since research is instrumental to the development of cutting-edge treatment."

Find out how the referendum result could affect football, with Dr David Webber.


Images: Brexit Scrabble by Jeff Djevdet speedpropertybuyers.co.uk (via Flickr)
Polling Station by secretlondon123 (via Flickr)
Poll Card EU referendum by Abi Begum (via Flickr)
Underground/Tube sign - London, UK / EU (Europe) flag (via Flickr)