Making social science accessible

20 Jun 2016


UK-EU Relations


No one said it would be easy. Whilst many people wanted a chance to vote on Britain’s EU membership, actually preparing to do so has proven rather complicated. While some bemoan the absence of facts, others note that we are inundated with reports, analyses, blogs and op-eds purporting to lay out the ‘truth’ about our relationship with the EU. It is hard to know whether the problem is too much information or too little.

No one, moreover, seems happy with the way the campaign is unfolding. Given the often hysterical nature of the debate, it is increasingly difficult for interested citizens to come to an informed judgement. Both Leave and Remain campaigns increasingly give the impression of being more interested in firing up their own supporters, and ensuring they turn out to vote, than in convincing the wavering and undecided.

As part of our continuing efforts to inform the public in the run up to the referendum, we at the UK in a Changing Europe were keen to find a way to illustrate the impact of membership and potential impact of non-membership on key aspects of people’s lives. To do so, we decided to draw on a methodology that has long been used as a planning device by businesses.

SWOT analyses – structured round an investigation of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – represent a balanced and concise way of weighing up the pros and cons of the UK’s relations with the EU, and of thinking about how they might develop in the future.

We’ve looked at 14 areas of the UK-EU relationship, including democracy, the environment, financial services, food, trade, travel and workers’ rights. We’ve tried to get to the bottom of what EU membership means for the UK, how it affects us, for better and for worse, and what impact either remaining in and leaving might have. As ever, our role is not to persuade but to inform. Each of the analyses that follow attempts, based on the best and most up to date social scientific research, to provide an idea as to what Brexit or remain might mean.

Two clarifications are necessary here. By ‘the future,’ we mean not the immediate aftermath of a decision to leave the EU, but, rather, the longer term implications of such a choice. Moreover, there are, of course, no facts about the future. Our assessments of opportunities and threats, therefore, is necessarily cautious. Unlike many of those campaigning for one side or the other, we do not want to imply certainty where none exists.

Most importantly, I very much hope that the outcome of all this work will be of use to you in making what might be the most important political decision of your life. The fact that the full implications of a decision to stay or leave cannot be known does not mean that there is no information out there that can help inform our decisions on 23 June. If this short analysis contributes to providing this, we will have achieved our objective.

Download the PDF file on SWOTS of the UK’s membership of the EU

By Professor Anand Menon, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe


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