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Hawking said many insightful things – not least on Brexit

by Luke Lythgoe | 14.03.2018

Stephen Hawking was a brilliant physicist, but he was also energised by politics and social issues – not least Brexit.

During the referendum, Hawking joined fellow academics in a letter to the Times warning that Brexit would be a “disaster for UK science and universities”. In particular, he argued that free movement allows us to attract the best researchers from continental Europe, including younger talent benefiting from EU grants.

He reprised these arguments in an interview with ITV, warning that Brexit risked making the UK “more culturally isolated and insular and ultimately more remote from where progress is being made”. He was equally frank about the geopolitics of Brexit: “Gone are the days we could stand on our own against the world. We need to be part of a larger group of nations both for our security and our trade.” With a Russian spy being poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury, his warnings are unfortunately timely.

Hawking also provided one of the most thoughtful responses soon after the referendum. He still hadn’t accepted Brexit was a good idea, saying he was “sad” about the result and noting that British scientists were already being frozen out of European projects. But he advocated making the “best of the hand you are dealt” and trying to understand why the British people made the choices they did. He argued Britain must change its attitude to wealth – particularly the “failure to divide it more fairly”.

Hawking was writing this a month after the referendum. Theresa May had just stood outside Downing Street and pledged to “build a Britain that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us”.

It has since become clear this isn’t happening, and Brexit is a big factor preventing it. People’s incomes are being squeezed as the drop in the value of the pound leads to price hikes in shops. Brexit is also making things worse for our crisis-stricken NHS, an issue Hawking was extremely passionate about. All this before Brexit has even happened.

As a scientist, Hawking knew that when the facts change so can your conclusions. The facts of Brexit are becoming clearer every day. If the people see the evidence and don’t like where Brexit is heading, they have the right to stop it.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon