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History and Policy

Dr Lindsay Aqui leads two projects drawing lessons from history to inform public policy today – exploring Britain’s relationship with Europe, and how history can inform decisions on existential risk.

These projects are funded by the ESRC and run from October 2019 to September 2020.

The First Referendum: Reassessing Britain’s Entry to Europe, 1973–75

Britain has been called an awkward, reluctant and even abusive European, an island on the side-lines of the continent which is at best apathetic, but at worst hostile to the European Union (EU). The referendum on 23 June 2016, in which 51.9% of voters in the UK opted to leave the EU, seemed to confirm that characterisation. 

This project explores an earlier moment in the contentious history of Britain and Europe: the period from Britain’s entry to what was then called the European Community (EC) on 1 January 1973 to the referendum on 5 June 1975. It studies the UK’s early experiences of EC membership under the government of Edward Heath, the renegotiation conducted by Harold Wilson’s government and the 1975 referendum which ultimately confirmed the UK’s membership of the EC by a majority of 67 per cent.

The research is largely based on archives, but also uses parliamentary debates, media coverage and public opinion polling. The findings are presented in The First Referendum: Reassessing Britain’s Entry to Europe, 1973-75, published by Manchester University Press.

Planning for the Worst 

Nuclear war, independence referendums and climate change. What these three things have in common is their potential to post an existential threat to the state. Drawing on examples ranging from Irish independence in the 1920s, the US Single Integrated Operational Plan for nuclear war (1961–2003), through to the ongoing preparations for sea level rise in the Caribbean, this project explores the notion of an existential risk and the way that the modern state plans to face of this kind of threat.

The research is based on archival sources, government publications and interviews with key insiders. It is intended that the findings will be useful to policymakers engaged in contingency planning and that it will also make an important contribution to academic literature on existential risk.

Image: Paul Townsend on Flickr

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