European Union flags outside an EU building

The EU is a hopeless anachronism – let’s leave and build a better world

By 08.04.16

By Jamie Martin, former special adviser to Michael Gove MP. He now works in the education technology sector in Africa @jamieamartin1

A world outside the European Union

I enjoyed Lucy Shackleton’s compelling and positive case for international co-operation in science and higher education. I am surprised she limits Britain’s ambitions to Europe, and shocked that in 2016 she believes the EU is an appropriate vehicle of co-operation.

We live in a world where the most exciting opportunities are in Africa, Asia and the Americas and where the slow, top down EU is a hopeless 1950s anachronism. The world has moved on rapidly, leaving the EU trailing in its wake. Britain needs to leave and, with our world leading universities and technology sector, become the leading country for innovation and science.

Leaving the EU no more changes our access to European science co-operation than it affects our NATO membership or premiership club’s right to play in the Champions League. It is certain that after leaving, Britain would be a fully associated member of Horizon 2020 with the same rights as an EU state, just as Israel is. So access to European funding and co-operation is no reason to stay in the EU, whereas the opportunity to escape its 1950s institutions and the huge risk to British science presented by future EU regulatory errors is a compelling reason to leave.

A (still) flawed model of governance

The EU’s blueprint for its future, the Five Presidents’ Report, is a painfully outmoded case for greater centralisation, bureaucracy and power for politicians, when the brilliant ICT future research on the coming internet of things says “the concept of super governments ruling their citizens…will not work in the long run”.

It took ten years to adjust the (still flawed) EU clinical trials directive, despite a Cambridge professor stating it was “a threat to patients’ lives”. Outside the EU, the decision on how to proceed with CRISPR gene editing was made in one meeting.

The Economist magazine says the EU’s net neutrality regulations “hurt the continent’s start-ups“, and the EU restricts IP liberalisation and open data, while programming languages evolve organically and compete openly and Zika researchers publish their data online daily.

The EU employs a thousand times the number of people WhatsApp does, yet only has half as many (rather less satisfied) users. As one African start-up founder put it to me recently, “the EU is run by a bunch of people who have never owned a smartphone“.

The greatest risk to British science and tech start-ups is flawed regulations from this lumbering institution which it then takes a decade to correct, while the rest of the world, unrestricted careers away from us.  If the EU’s institutions are stuck in 1955, its immigration and student fees policy – giving preference to where you are born not what you can contribute – have their basis in a Eurocentric worldview which looked outmoded when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world’

It is morally as well as economically wrong that a student from India or Ghana has less immigration status or is charged higher fees than one from Germany or France. Leaving the EU would allow us, as vote leave has advocated, to have the world’s most pro-science immigration policy and treat everyone equally. For the people in tech start-ups and cutting edge research trying to reshape the world, the EU is a frustrating anachronism that poses the biggest risk to their work.

For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, the EU is a fundamental barrier to the scientific breakthroughs they depend upon to survive the challenges of modern world. It is for them, and the problems we urgently need to solve that we need to leave, and begin the task of building a better future.

The Science Council is hosting a debate on Thursday 14 April on the subject UK Science Doesn’t Need the European Union.