EXCLUSIVE: University Vice-Chancellor dubs Brexit a ‘fantasy’

Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, spoke out at College of Europe.

Brexit Britain Cambridge University eu leave leszek borysiewicz nigel farage referendum remain vice-chancellor

Labelling next week’s vote as a ‘war of sound bites and statistics’, the Vice-Chancellor has taken the plunge to advocate an ‘unequivocal, unambiguous yes to remaining in the European Union’.

In a speech at College of Europe today, Borysiewicz has claimed that in the defining vote of our generation, we should look at shared European values as the pathway to making our voting decisions. He argued: “That this community of nations, bound by geography, can achieve more, and do better, by working collectively.

That these countries can avoid war with each other, and improve their lot, by acting in concert. That its members will be enriched, not diminished, by allowing their citizens the mobility to seek opportunities. Those are the fundamental principles underpinning the European ideal.”

Describing his own identity as a Welsh son of Polish refugees, at the helm of a quintessentially British institution, Borysiewicz claimed to feel “European to his very core”.

University Vice-Chancellor and son of Polish immigrants, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz

Borysiewicz points out two battle lines in the referendum debate – notions of national sovereignty and immigration. On the topic of sovereignty, he argues that the Leave campaign conflates isolationist thinking with discussions of national independence, and that arguing we are ‘stronger alone’ ignores the complex realities of modern global governance.

On the immigration question, Borysiewicz argues that the leave campaign was opportunistically conflated the issue of the legitimate freedom of movement within Europe with “the urgent questions arising from one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes of our time”.

Cambridge, as a leading research university, has other reasons to be sceptical of withdrawal from the European Union according to Borysiewicz. On research, he commented that ‘between 2007-2013 the UK was a net receiver of EU funding for research. Under the 7th Framework Programme the UK received almost 18% of the total funding awarded to all EU countries. To date, we have received close to €1.3bn under H2020. EU funding accounts for approximately 16% of UK universities’ research budget.’


Branding the reasons for the referendum as ‘unnecessary’, Borysiewicz claimed that “we are holding our future hostage to what is essentially a power struggle within Britain’s governing party”. Lamenting the state of the Conservative Party’s infighting, he suggested that it must seem odd “to our friends outside the UK to see the country tearing itself apart over this issue.”

Cambridge’s pro-EU campaign

He controversially labelled the visions of brexiteers as ‘a fantasy’, adding that “Britain would be left out of work and out of friends”, and that “in the event of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, we will have squandered the good will of all our neighbours.

We will have thrown away our own chances of being at the table, of being listened to, and thus of influencing policy in the issues that matter most, both domestically and internationally: Security… health… prosperity… diplomacy… the creation of knowledge… the safeguarding of the environment…the protection of essential rights.”

That’s his view. This time next week, Britain decides at the polls.