EU membership and UK science Contents

Chapter 6: Scenarios

208.Our inquiry was principally concerned with exploring the ways in which EU membership affects UK science and research. Inevitably, however, discussions veered towards consideration of the implications of Brexit. As such, a range of hypothetical arrangements and situations were contemplated. We do not wish to dwell unduly on the almost limitless number of post-Brexit scenarios, but there is value in highlighting the main arguments and hypotheses that were rehearsed. Furthermore, we offer some areas which merit attention in the event of the UK choosing to remain in the EU.

Repatriation of EU funds

209.It was suggested that, in the event of Brexit, the UK Government could re-invest an amount equivalent to current EU funds for science into the national science budget. There was, however, no absolute consensus regarding the likelihood of this scenario. Professor Dame Helen Wallace, representing the British Academy, speculated that:

“The Treasury—George Osborne at least is very keen on science, as we know—might allow for some enhanced science spending, but it would not necessarily have the same criteria of mobility and international collaboration that characterise European funds. My guess is that it would be not as much, it would not be ring-fenced and it would have different characteristics.”150

210.Professor Angus Dalgleish, spokesperson for Scientists for Britain, thought it likely that the Government would re-invest equivalent funding into the science budget:

“I think that it would be for a scientist to lobby so that money came back from the Government, because the Government would have more than enough to be able to do it without having to lose elsewhere. I think that would have to make it very likely.”151

211.Mr Emran Mian, Director, Social Market Foundation argued, however, that it was hard to imagine science and research funding being an immediate priority:

“In principle, there is no reason why the gap would not be made up. It is a very hopeful position, not least because in the event of Brexit there would be quite significant economic pressure not only on sterling—and the depreciation of sterling has direct impacts on how research moneys are spent or allocated—but, equally, there would be other economic risks to the UK. It might be that over time those risks would be smoothed out, so if you looked at it over 20 or 30 years the UK might be fine, but the immediate impact would be negative. It is very difficult to see in that negative scenario why science and research would be a priority for the UK.”152

212.The University of Manchester asserted that there were three arguments which countered the view that if the UK were to leave the EU funds would be invested nationally. Moreover, they queried the desirability of forfeiting the EU funding stream:

213.Furthermore, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson MP, himself expressed uncertainty regarding the likelihood of repatriating funds:

“it would be rash to pretend that it would be easy to replace it [the financial contribution from the EU to UK science and research] in the event of Brexit when we would not know what other claims there might be on the public purse, nor what state our economy would be in.”154

Contingency planning in the event of Brexit

214.Given the consensus regarding the importance of EU funding for UK science and research, we sought to determine whether a process of contingency planning in the event of Brexit had been initiated within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

215.After repeated questioning, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson MP, was not able to confirm that contingency plans were being prepared for science in the UK. Instead, he said:

“This is a question for the whole of Government with respect to the EU referendum and possible outcomes of it. The Government are campaigning for a positive vision for Britain within a reformed European Union, and all efforts are focusing on making sure that we have a positive campaign in which the facts are out there and people are able to make an informed choice.”155

A new regulatory framework for the UK

216.Attention also turned to whether the UK would be able to develop a more suitable regulatory environment in the event of Brexit. Such a scenario is plausible, as the Russell Group stated:

“There are a number of EU regulatory frameworks that adversely affect the science and research community. It is possible that if the UK were to leave the EU the UK may have more flexibility to set its own regulations which may be beneficial for science and research.”156

217.Vote Leave suggested that:

“Outside the EU, the UK would have the power to reconsider these Directives and Regulations. As EU law would no longer be supreme, the UK Parliament would be able to revise them to reduce the burden.”157

218.Syngenta indicated that there could be value in the UK developing its own regulatory regimes:

“Leaving the EU could mean that the UK would be free to introduce more scientific, risk and evidence-based approaches to the regulation of agricultural technologies, and therefore could be better placed to provide UK farmers with the latest advances.”158

219.The Royal Society of Chemistry, however, wrote of the difficulties that might flow from having differing regulatory regimes:

“In relation to regulation, a point made by industry respondents was the potential for divergent regulatory frameworks if the UK left the EU. The ability for the UK to set its own regulation was not viewed positively due to the perception that businesses would still need to comply with EU regulation, as well as any newly-developed UK regulation.”159

220.Similarly, the Wellcome Trust argued that:

“If the UK left the EU, while it could develop its own regulatory framework, which might have a national advantage, it would still be bound by some EU regulation, for example for large scale clinical trials. This would also be without the same opportunities the UK currently has to shape the content of legislation.”160


221.Scientists for Britain suggested to us that freedom of movement would not necessarily be restricted upon Brexit. They told us that: “EU membership has no bearing whatsoever on this topic.”161 They continued:

“Ending EU membership does not on its own predicate a change in freedom of movement. There are several non-EU European states that maintain free movement with the EU. Freedom of movement would have to be assessed separately by the UK electorate if voters had chosen to leave the EU.”162

222.Emran Mian, Director, Social Market Foundation, suggested to us, however, that: “It is very difficult for me to see a scenario of Brexit in which researcher mobility is not in some way impaired.”163 He argued that mobility was important because researchers coming to the UK from other EU countries :

“bring a set of networks already with them and we then take advantage of those networks in making our universities and research projects more competitive in funding.”164

223.Furthermore, he questioned those arguing that the UK’s strong networks across the EU would be maintained as:

“some of these relationships change very quickly, and, of course, the frontier of knowledge changes very quickly, and the researchers who will be important in 10 years’ time are not the researchers who might currently be in the UK or currently have associations with UK universities.”165

224.He concluded:

“The real question is how we would maintain mobility and the making of connections. That feels to me very much like a leap in the dark in the event of exit. For me, the biggest area of hesitation is what would happen to researcher mobility and what impacts that would have.”166

Associated Country Status

225.The implications of the UK leaving the EU and becoming an Associated Country were raised on numerous occasions. As previously outlined in Chapters 4 and 5, non-Member States can participate in EU funding schemes and collaborative platforms. There is therefore an argument that the UK could reap the rewards of EU membership in the event of Brexit by gaining Associated Country status. It was put to us, however, that were the UK to leave the EU, then the UK may face consequences which would mitigate against a smooth and fruitful change in the nature of the relationship. Professor Dame Janet Thornton speculated that “if we left the EU we have no doubt that there will be retribution.”167

226.There are currently 13 Associated Countries including Norway, Iceland, Israel and Switzerland.168 These countries are not members of the EU but participate in EU Framework Programme funding schemes. Bilateral agreements are in place with each Associate and terms of association vary from one country to another. Associated Countries generally contribute to EU budgets based on GDP and researchers can apply for funding as those in Member States do. Thus, in the case of funding awarded on the basis of research excellence, Associated Countries are able to be net gainers in terms of funding.

227.Scientists for Britain cited the examples of Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Iceland and Israel as non-EU countries that participate in and contribute to the science programmes operated via the EU, arguing that if the UK were to leave the EU, it would be perfectly possible to continue to participate in EU science networks in a similar vein.169

228.While there was broad agreement that Associated Country status could afford the UK access to EU funding schemes, concerns were raised about the level of influence that the UK would be able to have in decision-making processes and within advisory panels. The UK currently has significant influence on the development of EU policy for science. It is not entirely clear how this would be affected in the event of termination of membership and adoption of Associated Country status.

229.We were presented with forthright views that the UK, in the event of becoming an Associated Country, would lose its seat at the table when decisions were being made. Professor Dame Helen Wallace, representing the British Academy, claimed that:

“What the British would lose in that scenario is the opportunity to be full participants in shaping the direction of travel of programmes, because you would be takers, not makers, of the policy process and guidelines.”170

230.Sir Emyr Jones Parry, GCMG, President, the Learned Society of Wales, argued:

“The point is that we would be impoverished, diminished, by taking that course of action [leaving the EU]. That is not an argument against universities being international; of course they are international much beyond the European Union, but the EU dimension in what it has brought—the competitiveness, the incentive, the resources—has actually benefited very considerably the sector.”171

231.Professor Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General, League of European Research Universities (LERU), stressed the importance of having a voice in discussions:

“It is important to be around the table, to be able to say what the problems are and what the solutions should be. Simplification, excellence and investment in research and innovation are going to become much more difficult if you are no longer around the table and no longer have a voice.”172

232.Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Chair of the Russell Group’s EU Advisory Group, and Vice-Chancellor, University of Cambridge, expressed concerns relating to intellectual property:

“Associated member status carries with it a huge disadvantage, particularly if we think of the outcomes of that research as they will pertain to the capacity of the UK to exploit them. If you are an associated country you have to negotiate that position on intellectual property in a separate way because you do not form part and parcel of those areas. Were we outside the European Union, it is quite likely that we might still be invited because of the quality of research that is undertaken in Europe, but there is no way that any discoveries would then be exploited necessarily in the UK because we would not hold the intellectual property; it would be held by member states. I believe that being there is a huge advantage.”173

233.It would seem likely that scientists from Associated Countries participating in EU programmes are able to have some influence, at least at an operational level. The point was repeatedly made to us, however, that they would wield no influence when the high level, strategic decisions were made. Professor Robin Grimes, Chief Scientific Adviser, FCO, argued:

“There are some non-EU countries that are part of the European research area and they sit on the European research area committee, but they do not get a seat at the table when the Council of Ministers or the Parliament are setting the rules or deciding on budgets and planning programmes.”174

234.Similarly, Dr Mike Galsworthy, Scientists for EU, argued:

“If we were to pull out, then we would no longer have our Government representing us in the Council nor our 73 MEPs. In deciding, two things are important. One is the legislation around science, which is rapidly changing, and the second is actually the nature and the priorities of the science programme itself. In both of those, there are priorities set initially at the Commission level, listening to all the interests of those around them, which will be prioritised for their members over any external parties. That filters down through the Parliament, which would have to agree to it, in which we would have no representation.”175

235.The UK might wish to become an Associated Country in the event of Brexit. We heard, however, strong views that the UK would lose its influence and roles in setting strategic priorities and in decision-making. If Associated Country status were to be pursued, further investigation would be required in order to ascertain to what extent, and at what expense, the UK’s currently influential position would be diminished.


236.Much of our consideration of Associated Country status was viewed through the lens of the example of Switzerland, and we think it is instructive to consider the Swiss example in a little more detail. As a world-renowned, high-performing scientific nation and non-member of the EU, Switzerland was repeatedly highlighted as an example that the UK could follow in the event of Brexit.

237.Switzerland is not a Member State, nor a member of the European Economic Area (EEA); it is, however, an Associated Country and a participant in the single market. Switzerland participates in the EU’s fundamental principle of freedom of movement via a bilateral agreement.176 Thus, Swiss nationals are afforded the same mobility as those from Member States (and member countries of the EEA) are.

238.While we heard a number of arguments for why EU membership is vital for various aspects of science, the example of Switzerland—a research community thriving in spite of lack of EU membership—gave us pause for thought.

239.Professor Phillipe Moreillon, Vice Rector, Research and International Relations, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, provided us with a number of insights regarding Swiss science. He told us of the high performance of the Swiss science community and how European interactions influence this:

“Our raw material is science and, talking egoistically from the point of view of small Switzerland, with the networking and the fact we have attracted many scientists from all over the world to work, we have a scientific jewel, if you will. Now, we are out of the big networking from Europe, so you may say we can have networking with the United States, India, China et cetera, but our direct scientific neighbours are the European countries, and they have built this European area of knowledge, education and research, and we would be foolish not to use it.”177

240.He also stressed the importance of the permeability of Swiss borders:

“Fifty per cent of Swiss researchers have non-Swiss passports. This is important. I guess it is not very different from the UK. Thirty per cent of Swiss researchers come from Europe, from neighbouring countries, so the networking and mobility that was alluded to in the previous session is quite important, at least for Switzerland.”178

241.Addressing the question of the influence that Associated Countries have, Professor Moreillon told us: “If you work with European colleagues, or if you are applying for ERC funding, or if you are funded by Europe, you abide by the European rules.”179 He also alluded to Switzerland having a position of lesser influence than full Member States:

“When we became an associate, it was much, much easier, of course, but we are still not sitting at the decision table or on the consultative committees where the decisions are made. We have a number of ways to interact, such as through university associations. We are still in the corridor, but at least we are part of the whole programme.”180

242.In a number of areas, Switzerland has its own national regulatory frameworks. The regulatory environment for clinical trials is a prominent example of this.181 Professor Siegfried Russwurm, Chief Technology Officer & Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG, referred to these national frameworks as “peculiar rules and regulations.”182 He provided us with the viewpoint from a multinational business in terms of operating within such frameworks:

“We have to make up our minds whether special Swiss regulations are worth the buck to implement them for such a small market. Siemens does not want to wipe out this Swiss industrial tradition, so we keep this traditional headquarter up and running, with all the emotions that surround that, but frankly we have been reducing our R&D in this location constantly over the last 15 years.”183

243.While this is an interesting perspective from Professor Russwurm, it must be noted that a number of research-intensive multinational businesses are headquartered in Switzerland.

244.During our exploration of Switzerland’s affiliation with the EU, the sanctions imposed by the latter in response to the Swiss national referendum in February 2014 that narrowly voted to curtail freedom of movement were repeatedly highlighted to us. These sanctions had an effect on the science community. Switzerland was suspended from access to Horizon 2020. As such, the Swiss government was forced to replicate at national level a temporary programme to replace immediate access to the ERC programme and subsequently negotiated limited access to H2020, with much reduced admittance to programmes, exclusion from the new SME Instrument and loss of ability to coordinate collaborative research within H2020. The Swiss were also not included in Erasmus Plus.

245.We heard from a number of witnesses that these sanctions should be viewed as a warning to the UK on the implications of invoking restrictions on freedom of movement. Dr Mike Galsworthy, Programme Director of Scientists for EU, suggested that the EU’s sanctions on Switzerland should be viewed as the establishment of a precedent:

“Given that, on Brexit, we would most likely adopt a model that goes back on, or cancels, our freedom of movement arrangements with the EU, the real risk is that Switzerland is a strong precedent for the model that would be used for us.”184

The UK remains in the EU

246.In the event that the UK chooses to remain part of the EU, this should not preclude the UK Government from advancing reforms to enhance the interactions between the EU and UK science and research. While the overwhelming view we received was very positive about the impact of EU membership on science and research in the UK, even those who were arguably most in favour of continued EU membership—the university sector—pointed out that not all interactions were beneficial and were critical of aspects of the EU. Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Chair of the Russell Group’s EU Advisory Group, and Vice-Chancellor, University of Cambridge, told us:

“I would hate the Committee to take away the idea we have such a rosy-eyed view of the European Union that it can do no wrong; we certainly do not. There are good examples of where considerable difficulties have been posed by directives and issues within the EU. I just pick on one, and that is the directive about intellectual property related to embryonic stem cell development. That is forcing an institution like Cambridge to look for exploitation in California or India in relation to these areas. It is not that everything that comes out of Europe glows and is brilliant—there are the issues with clinical trial directives and the welfare of animals in relation to experimental work—but the important thing is that we do have allies within Europe and we can engage in that discussion and debate.”185

247.The Russell Group, in its written submission, elaborated further on the potential for reforms within the EU which could improve science and research in the UK. They highlighted the potential to develop better regulatory frameworks:

“The EU is not perfect by any means and we would support EU reforms particularly those which enhance our universities’ ability to benefit further from forging productive collaborations across Europe. One of the Prime Minister’s key areas of reform is to boost the competitiveness and productivity of the EU; research and innovation should be at the heart of this, as key drivers of growth and jobs. There is also a focus on cutting red tape, which would be welcome, particularly if the regulatory burden on UK universities could be reduced.”186

248.As discussed in Chapter 4, when the figures for the participation of UK large businesses in Framework Programme 7 are considered it is clear that there is scope for this area of the UK’s engagement with the EU to be improved. Large businesses in the UK under-perform when compared to key competitor nations and performance is below the EU average. When comparing this participation to that in Germany, Professor Siegfried Russwurm, Chief Technology Officer & Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG, saw fit to proffer some advice:

“The only humble advice that I could offer would be to synchronise national science funding with these programmes. Frankly, if it is our tax money that is spent via these programmes, then let us come to the conclusion that our national programmes should help companies and universities to make their way into these European programmes. Over the course of recent years, we have managed national programmes to help companies and universities to get their act together and be more successful in European programmes. We do not put that into the headlines, but it is a matter of fact, and I am not shy about testifying that to this Committee.”187

249.As well as exploring synergies between national programmes that support businesses with those provided by the EU, we consider that it would be appropriate for the Government to review its support for businesses in engaging with EU funding schemes in light of the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), as discussed in paragraphs 130–135 in Chapter 4 in the section on business and innovation.

250.Even those who were most in favour of continued membership of the EU—the university sector—criticised aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU. We therefore conclude that, in the event that the UK chooses to remain part of the EU, there would be scope for the UK Government to advance reforms to enhance the interactions between the EU and UK science and research. We suggest that a particular areas of focus should be the influence of the EU on the UK’s regulatory environment and the support available for UK businesses in order to facilitate engagement with EU funding schemes.

150 Q 47 (Prof Dame Helen Wallace)

151 Q 131 (Prof Angus Dalgleish)

152 Q 131 (Emran Mian)

153 Written evidence from the University of Manchester (EUM0044)

154 Q 157 (Jo Johnson MP)

155 Q 148 (Jo Johnson MP)

156 Written evidence from the Russell Group (EUM0069)

157 Written evidence from Vote Leave (EUM0056)

158 Written evidence from Syngenta (EUM0013)

159 Written evidence from the Royal Society of Chemistry (EUM0051)

160 Written evidence form the Wellcome Trust (EUM0034)

161 Written evidence from Scientists for Britain (EUM0075)

162 Written evidence from Scientists for Britain (EUM0075)

163 Q 129 (Emran Mian)

164 Q 129 (Emran Mian)

165 Q 135 (Emran Mian)

166 Q 135 (Emran Mian)

167 Q 6 (Prof Dame Janet Thornton)

168 See Appendix 6 for a full list of Associated Countries.

169 Written evidence from Scientists for Britain (EUM0075)

170 Q 51 (Prof Dame Helen Wallace)

171 Q 51 (Sir Emyr Jones Parry)

172 Q 2 (Prof Kurt Deketelaere)

173 Q 63 (Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz)

174 Q 127 (Prof Robin Grimes)

175 Q 130 (Dr Mike Galsworthy)

176 Agreement between the European Community and its Member States, of the one part, and the Swiss Confederation, of the other, on the free movement of persons, OJ L 114 , 30/04/2002 P. 0006–0072: [accessed 12 April 2016]

177 Q 141 (Prof Philippe Moreillon)

178 Q 137 (Prof Philippe Moreillon)

179 Q 140 (Prof Philippe Moreillon)

180 Q 138 (Prof Philippe Moreillon)

181 Switzerland operates its own clinical research rules (Swiss Human Research Act) that are different to the EU’s Clinical Trials Regulation.

182 Q 97 (Prof Siegfried Russwurm)

183 Q 97 (Prof Siegfried Russwurm)

184 Q 130 (Dr Mike Galsworthy)

185 Q 67 (Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz)

186 Written evidence from the Russell Group (EUM0069)

187 Q 104 (Prof Siegfried Russwurm)

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