EU membership and UK science Contents

EU membership and UK science

Chapter 1: Introduction

The context for our inquiry

1.During the previous Parliament, the Prime Minister, Rt Hon David Cameron MP, pledged that if the Conservative Party won the 2015 general election, he would seek to re-negotiate the UK’s relationship with the European Union (EU) and then hold an inout referendum on the UK’s continued membership by the end of 2017.

2.The UK’s membership of the EU has 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.

3.It was against this background of a forthcoming referendum and the scale and diversity of EU influence on UK science and research that we decided to pursue this inquiry.

4.We have made no attempt at any stage to recommend whether or not the UK should remain in the EU—that question is much wider than the scope of this inquiry.

The goals of our inquiry

5.Understanding the intricacies of the relationship between EU membership and the effectiveness of science and research in the UK is difficult. Its exact nature is uncatalogued and the extent of UK-EU interactions is substantial. Our inquiry aimed to understand and characterise the principal linkages between EU membership and the effectiveness of science and research in the UK, acknowledging that there would necessarily be limits to how much ground we could cover.

6.Our inquiry did not focus on higher education policy, immigration policy, undergraduate student numbers, intellectual property, non-research related innovation, or the generality of the single market and business competitiveness. We recognise that these issues are of great interest to many people but they would have expanded an already wide scope to unmanageable proportions. In this report, we use the term ‘science’ broadly to cover research, development and applications in all disciplines.

7.We gathered, assimilated and scrutinised evidence from a spectrum of practitioners, commentators and campaigners, and we compared and contrasted evidence from different sources to identify areas of consensus and inconsistency.

The UK science community and EU membership

8.The evidence we received suggested overwhelming enthusiasm for EU membership.1 A number of the organisations that submitted evidence to us are mandated to participate in public engagement and education in relation to science. We look forward to seeing these organisations interact with the general public and promote understanding of the implications of the UK’s EU membership for science and research. We take heed, though, of the comments of Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Chair of the Russell Group’s EU Advisory Group, and Vice-Chancellor, University of Cambridge, when he suggested to us that the relationship between the EU and UK science may not be one of the crucial issues considered within the wider population:

“We will make the case, but of all the factors that might influence voting, I suspect the impact of the large terrestrial telescope in Chile is not going to be the vote-winner in a referendum.”2

Identifying witnesses and evidence

9.We received valuable responses from national academies, professional institutions, universities, research institutes, funding bodies, campaign groups, Government departments and agencies, scientific advisers and individuals with experience of leadership roles in the EU. We also received notable contributions from some businesses and charities. We invited further contributions from these sectors, but we found businesses, in particular, reluctant to submit evidence, perhaps for fear of offending customers or shareholders. Overall, the business community was reticent in engaging with our inquiry. Many businesses chose not to provide a written submission and declined invitations to give oral evidence. Similarly, we were unable to attract evidence from many individual medical research charities so cannot do justice to their perspective.

10.Our inquiry has naturally been shaped by the specific portfolio of respondents and witnesses who have been willing to engage with our investigations. In certain areas, the evidence we received is likely to be representative of a larger population due to interaction with a range of membership organisations who speak for large sectors within the research community. In other areas, reflecting thinking accurately has been more challenging. It has been so, in particular, with regard to the business community, due both to the lack of engagement noted above, and the appearance of differences of opinion between the small number of witnesses. It was simply not feasible to hear evidence from all business sectors active in research and development in the UK.

11.Our Call for Evidence, issued in September 2015, invited answers to questions grouped under four themes: regulation, scientific advice, funding and collaboration. In the chapters that follow we take each of these themes in turn. We conclude by noting some of the scenarios that were put to us were the UK to leave the EU, and, in addition, we highlight some issues for consideration if the UK chooses to remain in the EU.

12.We repeatedly encountered difficulties on account of the conflation of the European Union with the continent of Europe. On occasion, we suspect the terms were simply used interchangeably. On other occasions, however, we could not tell whether arguments related to the UK’s EU membership or to the UK’s geographical location. We make every effort in the chapters that follow to address this important distinction. Equally, we also try to explain the differences between EU membership and Associated Country status.

13.We thank everyone who provided written evidence to our inquiry, and all those who gave oral evidence in sessions which we held between December 2015 and March 2016. All the evidence we received is available on our website and it provides a rich source of information and opinion which we would encourage all those who are interested to view. Finally, we would like to thank our specialist adviser, Professor Graeme Reid, Chair of Science and Research Policy, University College London, whose expertise was invaluable throughout our inquiry.


1 Evidence from Scientists for Britain (EUM0075) and Vote Leave (EUM0056) were notable exceptions.

2 Q 64 (Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz)




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