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11th October 2018

Politicians have “moral obligation” to prevent no-deal Brexit, says Russell Group chair

Sir Anton Muscatelli has attacked politicians over the uncertainty of an EU exit
Politicians have “moral obligation” to prevent no-deal Brexit, says Russell Group chair
Photo: Ilovetheeu @ Wikimedia Commons

Sir Anton Muscatelli has delivered a stark warning over ongoing negotiations with the EU, claiming that a no-deal Brexit would be “unhinged self-sabotage”.

The University of Glasgow Vice-Chancellor claimed that ‘all logic’ pointed towards keeping the UK in a single market after departure from the EU in March 2019. Muscatelli himself is one of the country’s leading economists, and has a track record in the field of political economy.

He further stressed that there would be dire consequences across the entire economy should the UK exit the European Union without a formal customs or trade agreement with the 27 other member states.

“There has been no comparable experience of a member of a regional trade association or free-trade area crashing out of that area without agreement”, said the 56-year old, speaking at a Brexit summit organised by Glasgow City Council.

His remarks came at a time where the possible implications of a no-deal Brexit are looming over universities, with UCU chief Sally Hunt intervening last month to argue that it was the greatest current threat to higher education.

Ongoing negotiations have cast serious doubt over the future of EU-funded research projects at British institutions, and the government’s hand was recently forced, as they agreed to finance EU schemes for UK Universities until 2020.The effect of the loss of freedom of movement on foreign students studying in Britain is fast becoming another dilemma, with the future of the Erasmus+ scheme far from assured.

Amid the uncertainty for students and academics unlike, UCU is set to announce the results of a membership vote on whether or not to support a second referendum, in the coming days. Universities UK has also been working closely with a number of UK institutions and the government to prepare for a range of exit scenarios.

Despite the potentially serious consequences for higher education, Muscatelli also stressed the universality of the problem, suggesting that a poorly-handled exit could set ”our economy and our society back for generations.”

This is certainly the case in Manchester, where in addition to the repercussions for the three universities, a no-deal Brexit has been described as possibly bringing ‘chaos’ to the city. A damning report from Manchester city council raised concerns over knock-on effects in areas from housing to the environment and warned that local businesses were not prepared to stockpile resources.

With tensions increasing between local and national branches of government, Muscatelli has given a hard-hitting message of indictment to key figures in Westminster, claiming that ”any politician refusing to try – who won’t even attempt to soften the pain of Brexit by making the case for single market membership, which all logic tells them is the right thing to do – is guilty of a serious dereliction of duty.”

The intervention of arguably the most prominent figure in British higher education is sure to spark debate over the apparent necessity for crucial agreements on university matters, regardless of whether or not a second referendum is to be held.

Meanwhile, universities are continuing their own informal planning for post-EU life, with Imperial College London and the Technical University of Munich announcing last week a unique ‘dual-nationality’ plan, in which they will jointly appoint staff, in the hope that this will keep access to research grants.

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