Magazine article Times Higher Education

Hit Video on EU Shows 'People Don't Want to Be Lied To'

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Hit Video on EU Shows 'People Don't Want to Be Lied To'

Article excerpt

Liverpool EU law scholar talks to John Morgan about anti-expert rhetoric and EEA deal chances

Michael Dougan, professor of European law and Jean Monnet chair in EU law at the University of Liverpool, has received "maybe about 15,000 emails in the past week, 10 days".

While "the great majority are basically saying 'thank you for doing your best to inject some evidence and analysis into an otherwise very poor debate'," he has also received "quite a few typed letters, and even handwritten letters, through the post accusing me of being a paedophile and hoping that I suffer a painful and bloody death".

Is that rather disturbing? "If you grew up in Belfast in the 1970s and 80s you usually have a bit of a thick skin for cowardly insults," he said.

What prompted all this was a recording of a lecture by Professor Dougan (pictured below right) on the European Union referendum - in which he accused the Leave campaign of "dishonesty on an industrial scale" - being uploaded to YouTube on 14 June. Since then it has racked up more than 500,000 hits, not bad for a 25-minute talk by an academic whose research specialisms include EU constitutional law, the single market and EU welfare law.

The lecture sees him tackle the "myth" that the Westminster Parliament is not the UK's supreme law-making authority; describe the "enormous technical undertaking" of disentangling 40 years of EU law from UK law and the "enormous delegation of power from Parliament to the government" this will entail; and detail the period of "about 10 years" that experts in the field believe it will take to negotiate an agreement on the UK's future relationship with the EU.

Professor Dougan spoke to Times Higher Education soon after appearing as a witness before the House of Commons Treasury Committee on 5 July, at a hearing on "the UK's future economic relationship with the European Union".

The video of his lecture, he explained, was uploaded by Liverpool colleagues. He saw its popularity as a sign that "people don't want to be infantilised and they don't want to be lied to", and that "they want to be able to make their minds up in an informed way".

Professor Dougan said that his critics have accused him of only analysing the arguments of the Leave campaign. But while "the Remain campaign's arguments were primarily economic" and outside his discipline, he said that he can focus on the Leave campaign's claims about sovereignty and constitutional issues "because that is where my disciplinary skills allow me to focus. And they were dishonest on virtually every imaginable count." The Remain campaign and the media, Professor Dougan argued, "just didn't have the competence and the knowledge to call this out. You would watch programmes where someone from Leave would say 'the European army is on its way' or 'Turkey's going to join and we can't stop it' and neither the journalist interviewing them or the Remain advocate...seemed to be able to say 'that's just completely untrue'."

Asked what role academics might have to play in ensuring a better quality of debate post-referendum, Professor Dougan said that the first role "is to try to provide policymakers and the media with some of the actual informed, objective, evidence-based analysis that was lacking before the referendum, but needs to inform policymaking after the referendum".

Yet this may be an uphill struggle given that Leave campaigners dismissed the authority of "experts" who sought to question their claims, and facts seemed to be dismissed as a key element in political campaigns by some on the Leave side. …

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