Our fellow academics must stop pushing dishonest anti-Brexit propaganda

Our fellow academics must stop pushing dishonest anti-Brexit propaganda

Since the Brexit referendum vote, we, like many people, have been shocked and disturbed by two things. First, the undisguised contempt expressed by a minority of influential and very vocal people in Britain – not to mention in other countries – for the majority of our fellow citizens, who have been accused of a variety of sins from ignorance to racism, and non infrequently crudely insulted.

Second, by the wave of exaggerated and often simply dishonest propaganda that has been deployed to try to undermine both the Brexit vote and the attempts of the British government to negotiate our withdrawal.

Some of us who hold academic positions have been particularly alarmed by this, because a number of academic colleagues and students have joined in the chorus. Academics, especially in subjects that have a direct impact on political opinions and government policies, have a duty – which they often claim with gusto – to analyse and inform.

But for this duty to be exercised honestly and fruitfully, group prejudices and personal interests must be put to one side. Dispassionate analysis can enrich democratic debate. But too many academics – led by the official institutions that employ them – appear to have been swayed by their own individual and corporate advantage. Others seem content to represent an ivory-tower elite, insensitive to the wider national interest – including the interest of people less privileged than themselves.

It is an intellectual failure for the academic community to have been so overwhelmingly harnessed to a single point of view. For this reason, it has made a negligible contribution to a national debate of huge importance.

Academics should scrutinise and question, not echo. No less disturbing is the fact that a considerable number of scholars, especially in fairly junior positions, feel that if they are intellectually honest and express views favouring Brexit, their careers will suffer. We are sorry to say that we think they are right to be worried.

A small group of us decided that we had to speak out, hence the establishment of Briefings for Brexit. As ‘experts’ in a variety of subjects, we were angered by the distortions that were being used to browbeat the electorate. Some of us had voted Leave, and some Remain, but we agreed that the issue had been legally and democratically decided, and to try to reverse the decision was sterile, divisive and frankly dangerous.

We quickly found, by spontaneous word of mouth, that there were others who felt the same. We have not attempted to recruit a large group (though we are happy to welcome allies inside and outside academia), and we certainly remain a minority within universities. But our primary aim is not to count academic heads. Rather, we intend to put forward reasoned and solidly based analyses to scrutinise and expose unexamined assumptions, myths, and downright falsehoods.

We are happy for other colleagues to take a different view, and to disagree and debate: that is our job. But we must stop sterile refighting of the referendum. Let the country hear the real arguments. It is our job as academics to help our fellow citizens to understand what is happening and where the country now needs to go.