Silence, bully and intimidate: a campaign strategy

Yesterday, I reported on the strongly pro-European stance adopted by Britain’s universities. Vice-chancellors are queueing up to raise the alarm about a possible Brexit, pointing out that a ‘No’ vote in the upcoming referendum would not only cut off a critical source of funding for their work, but would rip British researchers out of vital pan-European academic networks and destroy fruitful cross-border collaborations — not to mention depriving students of valuable cultural and study opportunities offered by EU-coordinated programmes such as Erasmus.

Today, the response from eurosceptics to the universities’ message has not been to engage with it, but rather, shamefully, to try and silence it.

Sadly, this bullying tactic has recently become common. It’s increasingly evident that many British people, businesses, academic institutions and other organisations are positive, outward-looking and pro-European. Faced with this uncomfortable truth, eurosceptics are not rising to the challenge. Instead, they are proving less and less willing to engage in debate, present counter-arguments or tackle issues.

Instead, their go-to tactic is now often to try and discredit their opponents by arguing that they have no right to speak out in the first place. Trying to silence the universities, they pretend that researchers’ motivations are untrustworthy because their work is EU-funded. Trying to silence businesses, they complain that their contribution to the debate is unwelcome and they must be punished. And trying to silence our international allies, they suggest that no other country is entitled to point out how much they would suffer if Britain left the EU, and everyone else should keep their noses out of “our” debate.

Aside from being quite sickening to watch, this kind of bullying is also misplaced for several reasons.

First, it’s no surprise that, the more people learn about the realities of our European Union membership, the more positive they become. Indeed, surely the very people whose voices are most valuable in our debate are those who have had direct experience of what the EU is really like!

Second, the suggestion that university professors are unable to come to an informed decision because they receive EU grants is a naked insult to their academic integrity. Besides, nearly all academic research is funded via general taxation. Do UKIP really believe that all our country’s professors of history, politics, economics and so on must be silenced from speaking in their own areas of expertise simply because their research funding is administered by the UK government?

Third, it’s breathtakingly hypocritical for complaints about taxpayer-funded bias to fall from the lips of the likes of UKIP. I don’t see any UKIP MEPs keeping their mouths shut, though they, too, are taxpayer-funded.

Finally, the whole reason we want to keep Britain in the EU is because our EU membership brings us benefits. Yet eurosceptics are now trying to stack the debate by claiming that anyone who has benefited is automatically barred from talking about it. On the contrary: everyone who benefits should be shouting from the rooftops!

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