The President of the Royal Society explains why he signed the Revoke Article 50 petition

The President of the Royal Society explains why he signed the Revoke Article 50 petition




Although I voted remain in the referendum, I worked hard in its aftermath to advocate a way forward which respected the result but which would allow us to maintain close scientific ties with Europe and minimise disruption. Instead of a smooth transition, we face a situation in which British politics is failing.  Regardless of which way you voted in the referendum, I do not believe anyone voted for the current confusion.  Research and innovation are essential to the long term well-being of the UK’s economy, yet the current state of Brexit is risking our position as a global leader in both.

The science community was overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU.  That position was adopted by analysing the available evidence.  UK science has benefited hugely from being in the EU.  Science has always been international because it depends on a rapid and thorough exchange of ideas and expertise. This exchange was enabled by freedom of movement. We have also benefited from sharing rules and regulations that allow NHS patients to access trials of cutting edge treatments and technology, which the UK is simply not big enough to deliver on its own.  And UK science has also been a net financial beneficiary.

Amidst the political chaos, it is astonishing that the idea of a 'no-deal' Brexit is still touted as a viable alternative by some politicians.  Parliament has voted against it, employers and unions have said it will cost jobs and be hugely disruptive, yet somehow the idea persists.

The uncertainty and disruption caused by a 'no-deal' Brexit would be disastrous for UK science.

Moreover, it would cause further damage to the UK’s long standing reputation of being an open country that welcomes global talent. The UK has been a leading destination for outstanding researchers from all over the world, including many from the EU. However, the damage that has already been done to the UK’s reputation would be exacerbated by a 'no-deal' Brexit, and would increasingly dissuade people from coming here. Instead, we have to do all we can to remind people of how good we are at science and how international our science community is and wishes to remain.  We need to continue to communicate that message in any way possible.

While the danger of a 'no-deal' Brexit remains, we run the risk of inflicting a terrible wound on our future.  Now our elected representatives urgently need to decide whether to agree to the current deal on the table, seek a further extension, to call a general election or have a second referendum, or to revoke article 50 and simply remain in the EU. Given the current gridlock, I personally feel it would be best to revoke article 50 and I signed the ongoing petition accordingly (in a personal capacity).  Politicians need to rise above partisan politics and self-interest and act soon in the best interests of the country. Whatever they decide, it is time the threat of a 'no-deal' Brexit is buried permanently.


Nobel prizewinner Sir Venki Ramakrishnan is President of the Royal Society and conducts his research at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. You can follow the Royal Society on Twitter here.

More information about how a 'no-deal' Brexit will affect UK science can be found in the Royal Society 'no-deal' Factsheet

Showing 7 reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

  • Prof.Salam Al Shereida
    commented 2019-04-08 01:42:35 +0100
    Never let the trembling of your will decide your future.
  • Jim Lockie
    commented 2019-03-31 22:34:14 +0100
    An intelligent and well-argued statement, based on evidence. What a shame our country is dominated by people not listening and shouting at each other, based on prejudice and ignorance.
  • Jose A. de Azcarraga
    commented 2019-03-31 19:40:42 +0100
    I fully agree with Sir Venki Ramakrishnan. Furthermore, how is it that the British Government decided that just a 3.8% of difference was sufficient enough to push forward such a dramatic change? Is it not a clear example of mathematical anumerism? What about errors, confidence levels, etc etc? Moreover, taking the argument further, would a difference of 1% or 0.5% had been enough too? It seems to me that extreme changes decided following perhaps well meant impulses but without a deep knowledge of all the issues implied (something that now is much clearer) cannot be decided by so narrow a margin. A citizen may redress the sense of his vote in a Goverment election in four years time, but a Brexit is irreversible and will leave British Society far more divided than it already is, and for many decades to come, may be generations. It will also have very sad consequences for the European ideal, of which obviously UK is an essential ingredient. Populism is rising everywhere; a Brexit definitely will not help to curb it down. The many of us who believe in the European ideal do hope that a Brexit will not happen. I am certain that many Britons have by now a considerable Brexit fatigue, but perhaps they are not fully aware that a similar and dangerous feeling, fully absent before, is now appearing among the rest of Europeans. For the benefit of all of us, let UK revoke art. 50 and let’s forget the whole episode, both in the UK and in the rest of the EU.
    Jose A. de Azcarraga, President of the Spanish Royal Physics Society
    PS My apologies for entering in the discussion but, after all, we are all Europeans and Brexit, I’m afraid, is not just a British affair.
  • Katrina Seton
    commented 2019-03-29 11:26:49 +0000
    I love this post and agree absolutely. However to suddenly Revoke Article 50 would cause a lot of problems with all the various factions squabbling amongst themselves. So it might be an idea to try (will be difficult) and get the long extension as proposed by Donald Tusk and let everyone have a good long hard look at what is really happening and how No Deal or any variations thereof will not work for the simple reason that the UK cannot afford to leave the EU. Our country has done so well by being in the EU, dragging itself out of the poverty of the Seventies and the pre-EU era to the good position we were in at the top of all the criteria for a successful nation. And then once tempers have calmed down and a bit of rationality has reappeared we can vote if we must and REVOKE Article 50! Kat Seton
  • Richard Quarrell
    commented 2019-03-29 07:49:46 +0000
    At this late hour the only safe action is to Revoke Article 50 now. That much is simple and underpaid.
  • Prof.Salam Al Shereida
    commented 2019-03-28 15:11:05 +0000
    Certainly, Sir Venki. We must vote for hope,for principles, vote for a brighter future for all of our loved ones. Don’t let everything stay as it is as long as it doesn’t meet your aspirations.You can protest until the sky turns black or the moon turns red ,and it’s not going ( with your hard will and determination) to change anything if you don’t vote for the best of the will of science,technology, philosophy and love that is emitted in the whole atmosphere. I believe that dreams are more powerful than facts.That hope always triumphs over experience. I hope to meet you soon and you are always as the best as I have known you. Wishing you all lots of luck!

    Yours sincerely,

    Prof.Salam Al Shereida
    University of Alberta Canada
    Research fellow-University of Minnesota-USA
  • Prof.Salam Al Shereida
    commented 2019-03-28 15:05:46 +0000
    Certainly, Sir Venki. We must vote for hope,for principles, vote for a brighter future for all of our loved ones. Don’t let everything stay as it is as long as it doesn’t meet your aspirations.You can protest until the sky turns black or the moon turns red ,and it’s not going ( with your hard will and determination) to change anything if you don’t vote for the best of the will of science,technology, philosophy and love that is emitted in the whole atmosphere. I believe that dreams are more powerful than facts.That hope always triumphs over experience. I hope to meet you soon and you are always as the best as I have known you. Wishing you all lots of luck!

    Yours sincerely,

    Prof.Salam Al Shereida
    University of Alberta CA
    Visiting Prof
    University of Minnesota-USA