UCL European Institute


Sir John Birch (24 May 1935 – 6 May 2020)

12 May 2020


We are enormously saddened to announce the death of Sir John Birch, the chair of the European Institute’s Advisory Board. 

Sir John joined the board in autumn 2013 and took over as Chair a year later. He had supported UCL in other capacities previously, having sat on UCL’s Council and the advisory board of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

His tenure with the EI spanned the tumultuous years following David Cameron’s Bloomberg Speech, during which – as the UK decided to leave the European Union – “Europe” moved centre stage of public, political and academic debate.

John was a passionate European, urging us all, from pre-referendum debates to post-exit analyses, to keep investing in the UK’s relationship with the EU. A former ambassador to Hungary, he was a consummate diplomat, deeply knowledgeable not least of Central and Eastern Europe, and personally committed to the principles underpinning European integration – although never uncritical of its shortcomings.

It is hard to overstate the impact John had on the work of the Institute. Harnessing his personal networks, vast experience, intellectual perspicacity, his drive, enthusiasm and charisma, he knit the Advisory Board together closely in support of our work. All of us will remember with fondness the many vivid discussions he led – over stacks of papers, UCL coffee or Athenaeum wine – on how academic research could inform public opinion-formation and political decision-making.

But John was also a friend. We have lost a personal ally who would regularly call to help us think through the latest current affairs conundrums, to discuss the next riddle we might help address, and to offer support wherever and whenever support was needed. Our work and our world will never quite be the same without him.

Mere weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, John passed away peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday, 6 May 2020, at the age of 84.