Don’t let’s quit

This doesn’t belong on the Guardian Science pages, because even though universities and science will suffer if Britain leaves the EU, that’s not my main reason for voting ‘remain’. But lots of friends have been writing or talking about their choice, and the difficulties of making it, and I feel the need to write my own reasons down even if everyone is saturated by now. It’s nearly over, after all.

Even though the EU is obviously imperfect, a pragmatic compromise, I will vote to stay in with hope and enthusiasm. In fact, I’ll do so partly because it’s an imperfect, pragmatic compromise.

I realise there are a number of possible reasons for voting to leave the EU, some better than others, but please don’t.


Maybe you’re bothered because EU democracy isn’t perfect. Also we can get outvoted on some things (these are two different points. Being outvoted sometimes is actually democratic. Some limitations on EU democracy are there to stop countries being outvoted by other countries too often). But it sort of works and it can be improved, especially if we took EU elections more seriously after all this. And we’re still ‘sovereign’, simply because we can vote to leave if we get outvoted on something important enough.

Misplaced nostalgia and worse

Maybe you don’t like foreigners, or you want to ‘Take Britain back’  (presumably to some fantasy dreamworld circa 1958). Unlucky; the world has moved on and will continue to do so whatever the result this week. I don’t have a lot of sympathy, frankly, and I don’t think this applies to (m)any of my ‘leave’ friends.


Maybe you believed the lies about the £350m we don’t send, which wouldn’t save the NHS anyway even if we did, or the idea that new countries are lining up to join and we couldn’t stop them if we wanted. If so please look at e.g. for help. Some people I love and respect have believed some of these lies, and that has made me cross. These aren’t matters of opinion, and the fact that the ‘leave’ campaign repeats them over and over shows both their contempt for the intelligence of voters and the weakness of their case. If you still want to leave, knowing the facts, then fair enough. But don’t do it on a lie.

We need change

Maybe you have a strong desire for change, because bits of British life are rubbish and unfair. In this case, the chances are your desire for change is directed at entirely the wrong target. The EU is not that powerful in terms of its direct effects on everyday life. The main thing it does is provide a mechanism for resolving common issues between EU member states. It is  a vast improvement on the violent means used in previous centuries. It spreads rights and standards to the citizens and industries of members states, making trade and travel safer and easier. And it amplifies our collective voice in global politics.

People who blame the EU for the injustices of British life are being made fools of by unscrupulous politicians, media moguls and others who have for years been content to see the destruction of British industry, the undermining of workers’ rights, the underfunding of the NHS and education, relentless attacks on national institutions such as the BBC, neglect of whole regions of the country and more.

These are the people now telling us to cut off our nose to spite our face, and they are exploiting the discontent they have fostered to persuade us this would be a good idea, by blaming the EU for choices made by UK governments.

They are quite happy for industry to move to lower-wage economies in the developing world when is suits them, but they don’t want us agreeing common standards, protections and practices with our EU partners. They don’t like Nation states clubbing together, because that can make trouble for multinationals, and (in principle at least) threatens their ability to cash in on exploitative labour practices and tax havens. They would much rather play nation off against nation.


If we vote to leave, the next few years will be dominated by attempts to negotiate something from the wreckage, against the background of a shrinking economy and a dysfunctional political class.  This will do nothing to fix inequality and the social problems we face (and I find it utterly implausible that people like Bojo, IDS or Farage would even want that). Those issues will be neglected or worse. Possibly this distraction, which is already present, is one reason some in the Conservative Party have involved us all in their internal power struggles.

If we vote remain, I hope the desire for change is preserved beyond Thursday, and is focussed not on irresponsible ‘blame the foreigner’ games, but on real politics, of hope and pragmatism, where it can make a positive difference.

I know there’s no physics here. This is the ‘life’ bit, and apart from the facts, it’s just my opinion. Before writing it I said this on twitter:

and it probably still be true that it’s better than the above. Certainly it’s shorter. But I had to try my own words.

I’m not going to enable comments here since they can be added on twitter and facebook if you feel the urge, and I can’t keep up with too many threads.

About Jon Butterworth

UCL Physics prof, works on LHC, writes (books, Cosmic Shambles and elsewhere). Citizen of England, UK, Europe & Nowhere, apparently.
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