The science and research community is understandably concerned about the implications and opportunities of the UK leaving the European Union. The Government has provided some helpful and welcome short-term reassurances in relation to underwriting EU funding for research and maintaing access to student loans, but the Government’s strategy for communicating these recent announcements is insufficient. Speeches and high-level meetings with stakeholder representatives will not be enough to ensure that messages are received at all levels and by audiences around the world.
The consequences and opportunities for science and research of wider decisions relating to the UK’s new relationships with the EU need to be fully fed into Government at the highest levels. The Government is meeting with stakeholders and assembling a high level forum on science and research, but we are not convinced that the needs of science and research are at the heart of the Department for Exiting the European Union’s (DExEU) thinking and planning for Brexit. Science should have a strong voice as part of the negotiations. DExEU needs a Chief Scientific Adviser urgently. The Government should also involve the interim Chair of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as a bridge between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and DExEU.
Planning for exit negotiations is still underway, and there remains uncertainty about the future model of the relationship we will have with the EU. Nevertheless, the Government should now act to reduce uncertainty by setting out a vision for science. This should include commitments to raise science expenditure as a percentage of GDP (as we have previously urged).
It should also include measures to attract skilled researchers and students, to be taken forward in Brexit negotiations separately from immigration controls more broadly, and should include an immediate commitment to exempt EU researchers already working here from any wider potential immigration controls.
The Government must also seek to capitalise on the opportunities of Brexit, including in terms of setting regulations to facilitate accessing markets and research collaborations beyond the EU.
17 November 2016