Top scientists defend EU freedom of movement

Science is a useful case study for the broader benefits free movement


In a letter published in this morning’s Times, 150 Royal Society scientists have issued one of the clearest defences of European freedom of movement of the referendum campaign.

The academics, including Stephen Hawking and Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, suggest that:

“If the UK leaves the EU and there is a loss of freedom of movement of scientists between the UK and Europe, it will be a disaster for UK science and universities.”

They argue that some of the most promising young scientists working in Britain come from continental Europe, and that access to the shared pot of EU science funding enhances the UK’s capacity to attract top researchers and conduct valuable research.

In the face of Labour’s extraordinary silence on Europe, many progressives are disappointed that the government’s conservative, anti-immigrant case has dominated the debate.

As the argument between pro-Leave and pro-Remain Tories hinges on which side can more convincingly claim that their approach will cut immigration and refugee numbers, we haven’t heard a wholesale defence of freedom of movement.

But that is exactly what the Royal Society group has delivered, with its argument that the free movement of people ‘is as important for science as free trade is for market economics.’ Science, with its proud tradition of collaboration, diversity and collegiality, offers a useful case study for the broader benefits free movement.

Of course, the case against free movement is not built on antipathy towards French and German scientists, but on mistrust of unskilled eastern Europeans and desperate Syrians, Afghans and Eritreans.

However, in a debate that has been dominated by anti-migration sentiment, any bold defence of open borders is more than welcome.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward

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