1.The House of Lords Science & Technology Committee noted in April 2016 that the UK’s membership of the European Union has a “wide-ranging influence” on UK science and research:
The UK’s level of engagement with EU funding programmes, for instance, is considerable. EU membership also has significant bearing on scientific collaborations, the mobility of researchers, regulatory frameworks and research and development (R&D) undertaken by businesses, to highlight just some of the interactions between EU membership and the vitality, or otherwise, of science and research in the UK.
2.Before the EU Referendum, we reported specifically on the EU regulation of the life sciences, noting that the impact of the European Union in this area can be assessed in terms of “the balance between the benefits of harmonised and responsive regulation and the compromises needed to achieve this”. We concluded that “too often, the precautionary principle has been wilfully misused in the formulation of EU life science policy-making”, and that “whatever the outcome of the Referendum, it will be necessary to reduce large areas of unnecessary complexity and overlap in EU regulation”. We noted that the UK was a significant net financial contributor to the EU overall, but a net receiver of EU funding for research, and that “if, despite the clear attractiveness of the UK as a research location, EU research funding was withdrawn after the exit negotiations, new funding could come from research collaborations outside the EU and from the Treasury reallocating funds previously sent to the EU”. We also concluded that “under current arrangements, the UK benefits significantly from access to EU science research budgets” and that “the EU can be an enabler of collaboration among member states, not least in the area of clinical trials: here, robust conclusions require large cohorts which cooperation between member states can provide”.
3.On 23 June the UK voted to leave the European Union. We launched our current inquiry on 28 June, seeking written evidence on the following points:
In July we issued a supplementary call for submissions in the format of a ‘risk assessment’, to address risks and opportunities in terms of their causes, consequences, impact, mitigation and ways in which the effects could be measured.
4.We held oral evidence sessions in June and July, hearing from a range of witnesses including the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation (Jo Johnson MP). By September we had received over 270 written submissions, including from over 40 universities, from higher education groups, businesses and learned societies. We also received many submissions from researchers and students, both on an individual basis and acting collectively as departments or interest groups. Several of the submissions were in a ‘risk assessment’ format. We are grateful to everyone who provided evidence.
5.We completed our inquiry with a final evidence session in October, with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union (Robin Walker MP), alongside the Science Minister. This provided an opportunity to explore more recent developments, including government announcements in relation to support for research and the creation of the new Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU).
6.Our inquiry builds on a considerable body of previous analysis. Given the wealth of detailed information available elsewhere, our report focuses specifically on the actions that the Government has taken in this area since June (Chapter 2), and the overarching priorities that the Government will need to consider when framing its Brexit negotiation position if it is to secure a positive outcome for science and research from leaving the EU (Chapter 3). In Chapter 4 we discuss the need for a new vision for science and research in the context of Brexit, and the extent to which structures are in place to ensure that the ‘voice’ of science and research is fed into DExEU.
7.Our report addresses the high-level issues of funding, people, collaboration, regulation, innovation and infrastructure. An Annex to our report summarises supporting material under those headings from the many written submissions we received. We intend to monitor and continue to scrutinise the Government’s approach to negotiating Brexit and how this addresses the particular risks and opportunities for science and research as the process continues over the months and years ahead.
1 House of Lords, EU membership and UK science, Second report of the Science and Technology Committee, Session 2015–16, , para 2
17 November 2016