A time for boldness: EU membership and UK science after the referendum Contents


The Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, has stated clearly that she wants a positive outcome for science1 as the UK leaves the EU. With a view to helping her to achieve this ambition, this report sets out key actions to ensure that UK science continues to flourish.

An uncertain era is a time for boldness not timidity. This is a time for bold steps to prepare the UK for life outside the opportunities and constraints of EU membership and to seek an even more prominent place for this country in the global economy.

The EU referendum created uncertainty for EU scientists in the UK as well as UK scientists in the EU. The prolonged delay in solid reassurances from the Government is having a corrosive effect on the UK science base and could consequently impact on the long-term health of the UK economy. Fortunately, the Government has the ability to mitigate this effect, not least by building on existing networks and mechanisms including Chevening Scholarships, the Newton Fund and the Global Challenges Fund. But, it is not enough to allow talented scientists from around the world to work in the UK: we must attract them vigorously.

To further enhance this country’s presence in the world of science, National Academies and the new UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) should be asked by the Government to search the world for outstanding scientific leaders, and attract them to the UK with compelling offers of research funding for their first 10 years in the UK and support for their immediate families as they settle into the UK. Such high profile figures often attract further funding and talent wherever they go.

The Government should consult the science community to identify opportunities to host at least one new international research facility, of a scale comparable to the Francis Crick Institute or the Diamond Light Source in partnership with governments or research funders from other countries.

Reassurances on funding are welcome but if they were to expire, and are not replaced, this would undermine some of the benefit of the major increase announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement. We assume the Government does not intend for this to happen, so we recommend that, in addition to the 2016 Autumn Statement announcement, the science and research budget should be re-based at an early opportunity to compensate fully for any reduction of funding from the EU, in effect adopting the Government’s 13 August reassurances into the funding baseline for the science and research budget in future.

The Government will acquire a range of additional regulatory responsibilities during and following Brexit. We recommend that the Government should assess in the short term the administrative structures and scientific advice required to support the regulatory responsibilities in the scientific domain that will transfer from the EU to the UK. The Government must ensure that it has appropriate scientific advice during the Brexit negotiations. The Government should also assess the need for a Chief Scientific Adviser in the Department for International Trade, bearing in mind the scale of scientific analysis that underpins international trade regulations and which may be required for trade negotiations.

The Government should explore collaborations and shared protocols in the scientific domain with Governments and funding agencies in major scientific nations, particularly where existing relationships are already strong. The UK-US axis on science stands out as an opportunity worth exploring.

1 All academic disciplines in the natural sciences, engineering, medicine, mathematics, social sciences and humanities, as well as related research, innovation and application in academic institutions, charities and industry.

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