The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Remain professor 2, Leave lecturer 1 (but a moral victory for Brexit)

For a Brexit-supporting minority in academe, here is an illustration of what we're up against. Last year I was invited by the editor of International Journal of Nursing Studies to write a commentary on Brexit and the NHS. This would be published alongside a staunchly anti-Brexit argument, by Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

This week, I discovered that the journal had allowed McKee to respond to my piece (without alerting me, as would have been courteous). Debate on a topic of major significance is vital. But I will not participate in a second round; at least, not in the IJNS. The editor is reluctant to field further exchange. My opponent's letter, in stark contrast to the relatively moderate tone of my article, does not grace the pages of the world-leading nursing research journal. McKee was obviously fuming at my optimism, which I had expressed fore and aft in my article: -

'For much of the global readership of this journal, arguments on Brexit may seem parochial: a storm in a teacup. Why should nurses in China, Brazil or the USA be concerned that the British people exercised their democratic rights in a plebiscite on membership of a transnational organisation?The UK is leaving the EU, not Europe. With London the financial capital of the world, a boom in manufacturing and tourism, highest-ever employment figures, and UK universities riding high in the world rankings, Britain can hardly be perceived as a nation in crisis.'

'I appeal to Remainers to relinquish their pessimism. Britain has a proud record in the development of medicine, nursing and health services, with a rich legacy of medical discoveries, Nobel Prize winners, the founding of the nursing profession by Florence Nightingale, and creation of the NHS. If the answer to everything is the EU, you are asking the wrong question.'

In a Britain-bashing tirade, McKee angrily lashed out at my espousal of sovereignty, democracy and taking back control. His argument was a rather good impersonation of Michel Barnier: 'EU bureaucrats will not stop anyone in Britain from doing anything. The UK just has to play by the rules.' Although he doesn't use the terms, he obviously thinks I'm a jingoistic half-wit. I have relented to the IJNS editor's advice not to take up my right to reply. However, as this leaves an uneven contest on the journal's pages, I present my intended response to McKee here: -

Dear Sir

In response to my article on Brexit and the NHS, McKee fires a scattergun of partisan political points. The relevance of Grenfell Tower and foodbanks to the EU is lost on me. The journal readership is more interested in how Brexit will affect the NHS than on electoral machinations, but I must confront McKee's distortion of the plebiscite as an advisory or reversible decision. The wording on the UK Government leaflet distributed to every household before the vote stated unequivocally that the result would be binding: -

'This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.'

McKee has a perverse sense of democracy if he believes that a referendum should only count if it delivers the 'right' result. Of course, Britons could in future decide to apply to renew membership (should the increasingly troubled EU still exist).

Perhaps one area of agreement between McKee and I is in valuing the NHS, which (for all its faults) is a cherished institution of British society. I am doubtful, however, of McKee's sense of importance of the EU to the existence of the NHS. While all healthcare workers from abroad are appreciated for their contribution, McKee puts too much emphasis on employment opportunities for workers from the EU, overlooking the desirability of British recruits. As argued in my original article, we should be doing more to entice homegrown talent into nursing and medicine.

The potentially adverse impact of Brexit on the NHS has been exaggerated. Reports of an exodus of European doctors and nurses were given prominence on the BBC and in the Financial Times and Guardian newspapers, with suggestions that the NHS will collapse after Brexit . This, frankly, is scaremongering by news outlets that make no secret of their anti-Brexit bias. Merely 5% of the NHS workforce is from the EU, and scrutiny of NHS data revealed that while 10000 workers had left since the Brexit vote (as reported by the Guardian), 13000 had arrived (as unreported by the Guardian). In fact, there were 3193 more workers from the EU.

This, sadly, is the extent of fake news in mainstream media, often citing evidence-free predictions of gloom from the ivory towers. Privileged people in positions of power are throwing their toys out of the pram. With their condescending and often vindictive attacks on ordinary people across the political spectrum, it seems that some influential Remainers regard themselves as experts who know best.

The rude and ostracising behaviour experienced by Brexit-supporting scholars has led to a heartening fightback, with the recent launch of the Briefings for Brexit academic group, which I have been pleased to join. I would suggest other nursing lecturers and researchers come forward: I personally know many who voted Leave but have felt scared to divulge this in a hostile atmosphere.

I happily work with Remain-voting colleagues, and I hope that the conflict will recede as we move on to our next chapter. Disentangled from Brussels bureaucracy, Britain has prospects of a bright future as a sovereign and caring nation.

Yours faithfully,

Niall McCrae

Regrettably, IJNS readers won't see this letter. I don't blame the journal for stepping back from the rancour, but as it stands McKee has been given a free hit. Furthermore, IJNS displays apparent bias in that my original piece was issued with a heavy 'health warning', noting that my opinion was neither that of the journal nor my faculty.

'The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect

the view of the Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care, or

King's College London.'

This was quite unnecessary: opinion articles are by definition the opinion of the author; it goes without saying. While my workplace was disassociated from my measured commentary, McKee's article and his subsequent rant were published without any disclaimer. There's no glory in beating a guy with one arm tied behind his back.

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Comments 2

Guest - Roger Watson on Friday, 23 February 2018 10:47

I would like to be the first of Dr McRae’s nursing colleagues to ‘come out’ as a fellow Brexiteer and also to express how ill-considered and aggressive Professor McKee’s response was. Like Dr McRae, the relevance of the Grenfell tragedy and food banks was lost on me. If these are indications of the state of pre-Brexit UK then, surely, they’re an argument for getting out. I stand to be corrected but, to date, every single prediction of the Remainers has proved to be wrong and the best inidication of future performance is always the past. The ‘ah but wait till we actually leave’ argument is vacuous - but no matter what the outcome I guess that Brexit will always be painted in a negative light because that is what the chattering classes think and the chattering classes are always right. As a Brexit supporter I will be well prepared to say ‘oops’ maybe we got that wrong if some things are worse. However, nothing to my mind, is worse than having decision about our laws, our life and our economy decided by unelected and unaccountable people based outside our country. It is hardly a surprise that the Remain lobby is happy to ask for democracy to be overturned; they are happy with the undemocratc state of affairs we currently endure being in the EC.

I would like to be the first of Dr McRae’s nursing colleagues to ‘come out’ as a fellow Brexiteer and also to express how ill-considered and aggressive Professor McKee’s response was. Like Dr McRae, the relevance of the Grenfell tragedy and food banks was lost on me. If these are indications of the state of pre-Brexit UK then, surely, they’re an argument for getting out. I stand to be corrected but, to date, every single prediction of the Remainers has proved to be wrong and the best inidication of future performance is always the past. The ‘ah but wait till we actually leave’ argument is vacuous - but no matter what the outcome I guess that Brexit will always be painted in a negative light because that is what the chattering classes think and the chattering classes are always right. As a Brexit supporter I will be well prepared to say ‘oops’ maybe we got that wrong if some things are worse. However, nothing to my mind, is worse than having decision about our laws, our life and our economy decided by unelected and unaccountable people based outside our country. It is hardly a surprise that the Remain lobby is happy to ask for democracy to be overturned; they are happy with the undemocratc state of affairs we currently endure being in the EC.
Dr Anna Bailey on Sunday, 25 February 2018 13:33

This is indeed a sad illustration of the rabid politicisation of British academia, especially on the issue of Brexit. In a way I'm glad McKee had his rant - he embarrasses only himself and exposes the weakness of his arguments. The behaviour of the journal is more worrying, with its use of subtle psychological techniques (e.g. the disclaimer for one side but not the other, and only granting one side a right of reply) to implicitly bestow cultural authority on the 'Remain' author.

As a fellow academic, what worries me most of all is that this lack of objectivity in academia not only produces unreliable research, but alienates the general public from academia and academic research in general. My own experience is that the average person is already pretty suspicious of (and often hostile to) academics, and this sort of extreme anti-Brexit posturing will greatly escalate this trend.

I agree that the launch of the 'Briefings for Brexit' academic group is a much-needed counterweight to the entrenched establishment position, and hope that it encourages the many Brexit-supporting academics currently in hiding to fight back. Academia is supposed to be a place for free thought and debate, not the repression of it.

This is indeed a sad illustration of the rabid politicisation of British academia, especially on the issue of Brexit. In a way I'm glad McKee had his rant - he embarrasses only himself and exposes the weakness of his arguments. The behaviour of the journal is more worrying, with its use of subtle psychological techniques (e.g. the disclaimer for one side but not the other, and only granting one side a right of reply) to implicitly bestow cultural authority on the 'Remain' author. As a fellow academic, what worries me most of all is that this lack of objectivity in academia not only produces unreliable research, but alienates the general public from academia and academic research in general. My own experience is that the average person is already pretty suspicious of (and often hostile to) academics, and this sort of extreme anti-Brexit posturing will greatly escalate this trend. I agree that the launch of the 'Briefings for Brexit' academic group is a much-needed counterweight to the entrenched establishment position, and hope that it encourages the many Brexit-supporting academics currently in hiding to fight back. Academia is supposed to be a place for free thought and debate, not the repression of it.
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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

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