PRESS RELEASE 18/11/2016

Scientists for EU respond to House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report: “Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research”

The report released today by the Science & Technology Committee is a competent and purposeful piece. It not only articulates the acute challenges of Brexit, but also understands what is needed right now. Brexit is hurting UK science already and this report calls for much bolder and more positive action from the Government to get UK science on the front foot again.

We are particularly pleased to see the Committee identify the UK-EU science relationship as a fruitful ecosystem that goes well beyond simple funding commitments. We applaud the demands to place science prominently in our economy, public investment, immigration policy and negotiations with the EU.

The Committee is quite right to call for the UK to fund its science at 3% of GDP, to give science a “strong voice” in the negotiations, place guarantees for foreign scientists within UK science, and to tackle the uncertainty by setting out an inspiring UK science “vision” for science. Our country now needs the big, bold science plan that re-establishes the UK science brand in the eyes of the world.

Finally, we are relieved that the Committee has shaped a report which focuses on clear practicalities, avoiding the usual painful rhetoric around Brexit. There is one exception, however: That of portraying “research collaborations beyond the EU” as an “opportunity” of Brexit. This final rhetorical bubble must be burst. EU membership has never restricted UK science collaborations outside the EU. Rather, EU membership has enhanced UK global outreach via its world-leading programme. It’s time to give the EU credit for that – and acknowledge that the EU’s innovative vision of multinational science has inspired much of our UK science community of late.

Appropriate criticism of the government

This report stands up for UK science in a time of widespread uncertainty and Brexit plans collapsing under the weight of their own political contradictions. It criticises the government for not having gone beyond minimal verbal reassurances. The government must do more to shore up belief in UK science’s future through the breadth and depth of the community. Failing to commit to real vision at this stage sets us up to continue haemorrhaging talent and collaborations through the uncertainty and damage to the brand of the UK and UK science. The Committee also criticise, appropriately, DExEU for not having yet brought science advice into its structure, given 1) the critical value of the EU relationship to UK science and 2) the value of UK science to the UK economic future. It rightly notes that the science community can be a force for good in the broader negotiations and should be harnessed in that capacity. Whilst the government hide behind repetitive and hollow soundbites, this report calls them out on their inaction and shows the way with clear positive steps.

The value of people

The Committee clearly understands the fallacy of complacency when it comes to global talent. It is not about whether we allow the best to come here, but about fighting to attract the best to our shores in a competitive world. Our current leadership should take heed. Cringey nationalistic posturing from some of our leading politicians does nothing to help UK science, which runs on attracting international lifeblood. We are privileged to host so much global talent.

Our broader public clearly want us to continue to attract top talent. However, anti-immigration rhetoric by the government chase away the very same. The Committee is quite right to demand that the government change tune, to guarantee the continued rights of EU citizens living here and to overtly attract the increased influx of talent that the public would support.

A central role for science in the Industrial Strategy

The report reaffirms the widely-agreed status of science as a national asset and further asserts that it must be central to our new Industrial Strategy. The Committee is right to demand the 3% GDP funding target set by the EU, by BIS and many advocates before. We must operate at competitive levels and stave off the damage of Brexit with real investment and vision in science. The Autumn Statement would be an ideal opportunity to demonstrate this level of commitment.

A point missed

In recent years, the EU has been inspirational for science. It is time that credit is given. The EU science programme used to be bureaucratic and dull, but has recently transformed itself into a confident, innovative global brand. We, in the UK, had a hand in this and share in the credit. We have boosted each other through our close partnership and together we lead the world. Overt recognition of this dynamic and a commitment to UK-EU mutual reinforcement in the future is vital to set the right tone in the negotiations. It also goes a long way to convince the UK’s own science community that our national science vision is one which aligns with their vision and wishes. Regardless of other political dynamics, on the science level, we need to ensure that we are still very much a team.

“Where the Lords report before the referendum floundered in dull political equivocation, today’s report has broken through to the light and addresses the path forward with clarity. Importantly, it addresses the soul of UK science moving forward. The world needs to see us with a big, bold science plan that embraces the world, strengthens our continent and welcomes in the global talent.”
Dr Mike Galsworthy, co-founder, Scientists for EU

“The science community has not been swayed by the authoritarian populism of Brexit Britain and the government must do more if it is to stem the brain drain that has already started. The Committee’s suggestions of immediate funding, holistic messaging and greater representation should be taken as top priorities by our Brexit leaders.”
Dr Rob Davidson, co-founder, Scientists for EU

For further information, please contact Dr Mike Galsworthy, Programme Director of Scientists for EU on: [email protected]

One Comment

  1. Martin Yuille

    This Press Release is quite right: Brexit will NOT enhance opportunities for collaboration beyond the EU because, as an EU Member State we already benefit from the global collaboration framework developed over the decades by the EU.

    The EU has Science and Technology Agreements with 20 countries (including the major economies) and is preparing similar agreements with further countries and regional groupings (e.g. the whole of Africa and the Pacific Rim).

    The EU is developing a permanent structure of scientific and technological collaboration with 180 countries.

    All that will need to be replaced by a UK outside the EU.

    If we replace these relationships AFTER we have left, then we will lose out to the EU27 and we will have little to offer to the 180 countries by comparison with the EU because our country is so much smaller than the EU. The 180 countries will not prioritise negotiating with the UK for a small deal when a big deal is already on offer from Brussels.

    Therefore the scientific and technological collaborations have to be put in place BEFORE we leave the EU. With all 180 countries.

    That’s what Theresa May has to do if UK science is not to be diminished.

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