Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research Contents

4The Government’s vision for science outside the European Union

54.An overarching concern arising from the many written submissions we received was the need for the Government to develop a ‘vision’ for science and research in the context of Brexit. Dr Sarah Main from the Campaign for Science and Engineering argued that the Government should clarify “if and whether they believe that a science-research-intensive innovative future is one that they wish to develop in the UK”.80 Jo Johnson subsequently offered us the beginning of such a vision; he told us that:

British science wants to go from strength to strength in this new world. We want to support it in doing so. That means making sure that it is getting the best possible funding settlements available within the fiscal constraints that the Government find themselves in […] It means making sure that we have a really strong pipeline of talent that will enable us to take advantage of the research the community is generating. It means making sure that we are still attractive to collaboration around the world; that we are open, that we welcome talent and that we continue to generate a spectacular return on the public investment in our science base. That is the vision for science.81

55.He added that the Government was seeking to reassure the science community that it was “committed to keeping Britain at the forefront of science around the world”.82 Similar sentiments were expressed by the Prime Minister shortly after the Referendum:

The UK is rightly acknowledged as a world-leader in science and research [… ] It is why I would like to use this opportunity to reiterate the Government’s Manifesto and Spending Review commitments to protecting science and research funding in real terms […] I would like to reassure you about the Government’s commitment to ensuring a positive outcome for UK science as we exit the European Union.83

56.However, some of our witnesses suggested that leaving the EU exposes a difference between the Government’s recent level of ambition for science compared with the programmes that the European Union had developed. Dr Main told us that:

the EU has set for itself ambitious targets in terms of R and D activity, both monetary and collaborative in terms of addressing grand challenges and so on. The UK Government’s ambition in recent years has not matched the level of the EU, so, moving forward, if the Government could set out a really ambitious programme for science […] the rest will follow.84

The voice of science in Brexit negotiations

57.Many of our witnesses highlighted the importance of ensuring that UK science and research has a voice in the Government’s Brexit planning and negotiations, in order to ensure that the issues raised during our inquiry were not lost amongst wider considerations. Dr Sarah Main, from the Campaign for Science and Engineering, argued that:

If [science] is represented among all the many other interests that are important to the UK, then the community will trust that it can feed into that voice. A voice at the table and a clear process—a structure—by which the community can feed in what it wishes to say would be what I would ask for.85

Similarly, Professor Philip Nelson, Chair of Research Councils UK, explained that:

One of the challenges we face is that so many of the issues are tied in with the bigger politics of it all, and it is quite an intimidating thought that this could easily get lost. Our real concern is that we do not lose some of the important features of our current landscape.86 […] it is very important that our [science community’s] voice is heard and that it is substantially transmitted in that negotiation.87

58.Jo Johnson told us that a “high-level forum” on the impact of Brexit for science and research was being established, which will “make sure that we are really capturing all the views of the distinct parts of the community”.88 He explained that he wanted to ensure that the Department for Exiting the EU was “as well informed as possible about the interests of the community”, and told us that he and DExEU ministers were “really working tightly together to ensure that the community’s views and interests are fully represented in [DExEU’s] work”.89 Clearly it is incumbent on the science and research community to ensure that it continues to express its concerns and priorities clearly as Brexit negotiation plans progress.

59.In the meantime, Jo Johnson envisaged that the creation of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) would play a part in providing this information. The Higher Education and Research Bill will establish this body, bringing together the seven existing Research Councils, Innovate UK, and research funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. In a speech at the Wellcome Trust in June, the Minister said:

I have no doubt that the formation of UKRI will provide indispensable support to our research and innovation leadership during this period of change in our relationship with the European Union. Now, more than ever, as these communities face new challenges, we need a strong and unified voice to represent your interests across government, across Europe and around the world.90

Sir John Kingman, appointed in May as the interim Chair of UKRI,91 told us that:

I have been spending a significant part of my time engaging with colleagues in Whitehall, both on Brexit-related issues and on ensuring that, for want of a better phrase, the new Government buy into the importance of this agenda for our country and economy. […] I have been very encouraged by the receptiveness of No. 10, the Treasury and obviously Ministers in BEIS to that line of argument […] I fully accept the responsibility to do everything I can to make sure that any downsides of Brexit are limited and any upsides are maximised.92

60.It is crucial that science and research have a clear ‘voice’ within DExEU and in developing Brexit negotiation strategies, but we are not yet convinced that this is the case. We welcome the Government’s plans to establish a high level group to capture the views of the science and research community and look forward to receiving further details in the Government’s response to this report. But the science perspective must be part of the Government’s planning now. The Government states that UKRI can provide such a voice. It should formally involve the interim Chair of UKRI as a bridge between BEIS and DExEU. We recommend that he engage publicly with the community to describe the progress made with securing a good outcome for science and research.

A Chief Scientific Adviser for DExEU

61.The Government is supported by a network of Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs), with one appointed in each Government department. We asked Robin Walker on what timescale the newly created Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) would appoint a CSA. He told us on 26 October that “a vacancy has been advertised”93 and Jo Johnson referred to DExEU having “got its advert out”.94 That reassurance was subsequently withdrawn when the Ministers wrote to explain that a job advert had not been issued, and that DExEU was still considering how best to get the scientific expertise it needs, since the Government Office for Science offered “a resource for the whole of Government”.95 The Ministers stated that DExEU “will be using those resources to make sure that we are properly informed on these things”.96

62.We were very disappointed to learn that the Department for Exiting the European Union is not currently progressing with appointing a departmental Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA). Such an adviser could help ensure that the impact on science and research of various models for Brexit, and the opportunities these provide, is understood and prioritised within the Department. A stronger Brexit role for UKRI should not be a substitute for a clear science voice within DExEU itself. We recommend that DExEU make appointing a Chief Scientific Adviser a matter of priority.

63.There is a need for the Government to articulate an ambitious vision for science that goes beyond continuing to be ‘open for business’ and generally seeking “a positive outcome” from leaving the EU. At this stage it may not be possible to articulate the detail of how any vision for science after-Brexit will be achieved, but a more ambitious statement would provide greater reassurance in the current climate of uncertainty. The beginnings of this were provided by the Science Minister in his evidence to us, but such a vision needs to be developed and propagated much further.

64.The Government must send a clear message now that it intends to protect the UK’s strength in science. To help allay the uncertainty arising from the Referendum result, it should set out its objectives for addressing the priority areas of concern for the science community—funding, people, collaboration, regulation and facilities. It should use the opportunity of the Autumn Statement later this month to commit, as we have previously recommended, to raising the UK’s expenditure on science R&D to 3% of GDP. This would demonstrate a determination not only to negotiating a post-Brexit relationship with the EU that is good for science but also to secure opportunities for science collaboration with markets beyond Europe.

Monitoring the impact

65.Such a post-Brexit vision will have to be regularly restated, but also updated so that it continues to take account of views about emerging risks and opportunities. This requires monitoring the priority areas we have discussed in this report to detect changes as a result of beginning the process of leaving the EU. The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute told us that monitoring the impact of Brexit in terms of the effect on people required a detailed disaggregation of data:

Particular areas to focus attention on are positions which by their nature are relatively short (3 years or less) but highly skilled and highly mobile groups, such as postdoctoral fellowships, visiting workers and PhD students […] Recruitment figures and overall funding figures should be relatively easy to gather from multiple UK sources, however understanding the impact of reduced access to certain funding streams (if that is what eventually happens) will be far more challenging to understand than simple financial impact. Metrics for the movement of researchers, the roles researchers are playing on collaborative grants (lead or supporting) and the numbers of visiting workers, postdoctoral fellows etc. could help the Government to monitor the change in working practices. This is of course dependent on having such metrics prior to the referendum vote.97

66.The European Commission told us that it routinely monitors Horizon 2020 participation rates, and that the 2016 annual monitoring report would be available in the first semester of 2017.98 Comparing participation rates in 2016 with previous figures could provide some insight into whether UK partners are being left out of bids, but these figures will be subject to some natural variability.

67.The Government must set out the metrics it will use to assess how well the UK avoids the risks of Brexit for science and research and secures the benefits. It should monitor these metrics during the course of the Brexit negotiations, and regularly publish the results. We intend to ask the Minister for science for updates periodically during the course of the Brexit process.

80 Q4

81 Q193

82 Q128

84 Q7

85 Q6

86 Q114

87 Q92

88 Q194

89 Q195

90 Speech by Jo Johnson MP at the Wellcome Trust 30 June 2016, Leading the world in a new age of global science

91 “John Kingman to lead creation of new £6 billion research and innovation body, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 17 May 2016

92 Oral evidence taken on 12 October 2016, HC 671, Qq25–29

93 Q166

94 Q169

96 Qq166–167

97 Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (LEA 133) paras 28–29

98 European Commission (LEA 287)

17 November 2016