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

Chapter 1: Introduction


1.In April 2016 we published a report on EU membership and UK science.2 It aimed to identify and characterise the principal linkages between European Union (EU) membership and the effectiveness of science in the UK.

2.Our report examined the funding given by the EU to UK science and considered other aspects of EU membership, such as freedom of movement of scientists, the EU regulatory framework and the ability to collaborate on major projects. We concluded that these in particular were significant aspects of membership.

3.The overwhelming balance of opinion made known to this Committee from the UK science community during that inquiry valued greatly the UK’s membership of the EU—but there were some qualifications to this enthusiasm. Our report consequently highlighted some negative aspects of the UK’s EU membership, such as restrictive EU regulations that could inhibit innovative research and the translation of research findings into commercial or social benefits, particularly in the life sciences.

4.In our April report we also concluded that the ease with which talented scientists could move between EU Member States and the UK, the EU’s fertile environment for research collaboration, harmonised regulations, access to EU research facilities and the availability of substantial funding for research combined to make EU membership a highly prized feature of the science ecosystem in the UK. We concluded that the UK could lose strategic influence on EU science policy in the event of a vote to leave.

5.Following the 2015 General Election, the new Conservative Government implemented its manifesto pledge by holding a UK-wide referendum on EU membership (“the EU referendum”) on 23 June 2016. On a national turnout of 72%, 51.9% voted for the UK to leave the EU. On 13 July, following the Rt Hon David Cameron’s resignation, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP became Prime Minister. She stated during her campaign to become Prime Minister—and after she took office—that “Brexit means Brexit” and that there would be no attempt made by her Government to stay within the EU.3

6.In the table below, we set out some of the key events between the EU referendum and now. We found the report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research,4 which addressed the high-level issues of funding, people, collaboration, regulation, innovation and infrastructure, particularly interesting.

Table 1: Key events between the EU referendum and publication of this report



23 June

Referendum on UK membership of the EU. 51.9% voted to leave the EU (on a turnout of 72%).

28 June

Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, issues a statement on higher education and research in the light of the EU referendum result.5

House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology launches inquiry, Leaving the EU: Implications and opportunities for science and research.6

18 July

The Prime Minister writes to Professor Sir Paul Nurse (former President of the Royal Society and Chief Executive and Director of the Francis Crick Institute), promising a positive outcome for science during Brexit negotiations.7

26 July

This Committee launches follow up work on EU membership and UK science.8

13 August

The Government announces that it will “underwrite funding for approved Horizon 2020 projects applied for before the UK leaves the EU”.9

2 October

The Prime Minister announces that she will trigger Article 50 to begin the formal Brexit negotiation process by the end of March 2017. She also announces a Great Repeal Bill to end EU law’s primacy in the UK.10

25 October

In oral evidence to this Committee, Jo Johnson MP clarifies that the 13 August funding guarantee by the Government would be met with additional funds and not with money transferred from the existing science budget.11

3 November

The High Court rules that Parliament must vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the EU.12 The Government announces it will appeal this decision at the Supreme Court.

18 November

House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology publishes report, Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research.13

21 November

Prime Minister’s speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in which she announces government investment worth £2 billion per year by 2020 for research and development (R&D). 14

23 November

Autumn Statement in which details of the Prime Minister’s announcement of 21 November are confirmed. 15

5 December

Start of the Government’s appeal to the Supreme Court against the High Court judgment of 3 November that Parliament must vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the EU.16

Our follow up work

7.In July 2016, in the light of the EU referendum result, we decided to conduct a brief investigation to follow up our report on EU membership and UK science to assess the implications of that result for science. The core question that we sought to answer was: what actions are needed to ensure UK science continues to flourish as the UK negotiates its exit from the EU and, thereafter, plays an even stronger role in the international competitiveness of the UK?

8.We have drawn on the evidence submitted to us during the course of our earlier inquiry, but we have not rehearsed all the arguments made in that report. Whilst we did not publish a separate call for evidence for this follow up work, we advised those interested in making a written submission to contact the Committee. In total we received 19 written submissions.

9.The Prime Minister has stated clearly that she wants a positive outcome for science as the UK leaves the EU. With a view to helping her to achieve this, our supplementary report describes the important and distinctive interests of the UK scientific community in order to inform the Government’s negotiation of the UK’s exit from the EU.

10.Whilst the evidence we received set out many of the challenges facing UK science after the EU Referendum and emphasised the importance of ensuring that science can flourish in a post-Brexit UK, we received few concrete suggestions for action by the Government. In an attempt to be helpful to the Prime Minister as she seeks to ensure a positive outcome for science, we have made a number of recommendations which were not specifically suggested to us in evidence but which are based on our varied experience of science, business and academia. They are an attempt to bridge the gap between the analysis of the challenges facing science and the desired end point of UK science flourishing post-Brexit.

11.The UK’s outstanding reputation and performance in the scientific world depends critically on redoubling efforts to persuade many of the world’s most talented scientists to pursue careers in this country. These leading scientists often attract investment from private and charitable institutions as well as the public sector. Uncertainty over the future relationship between EU and UK science is unwelcome to those making career choices or investment decisions. There may be questions about the UK’s future relationship with the EU that cannot be answered now. But we heard from witnesses that there is a pressing need for Government to provide early reassurance and confidence to the scientific community. We welcome interventions from National Academies and other institutions with strong relationships with the scientific community, to communicate messages of reassurance from, and concerns to, the Government.

Structure of report

12.The evidence we received during our follow up work clustered around four main themes, which we consider in turn in the following chapters:

13.Across these themes, we have identified short-, medium- and long-term actions which the Government could realistically take to support the health of UK science during and beyond the process of leaving the EU. The box below sets out our timescale for these different actions.

Box 1: Timescales required for Government action

Short-term actions should be started—but not necessarily completed—before Article 50 is invoked.

Medium-term actions should be started—at the latest—during the two year period between the Article 50 process being started and the UK formally leaving the EU.

Long-term actions should be started either late in the exit negotiations or after the UK has left the EU.


14.Throughout this report we have used the term “science”. By this term we mean 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.

Working methods and acknowledgments

15.Although we did not formally invite written evidence, we received 19 helpful and informative written submissions from, amongst others, international companies, individuals, academic bodies, charities and scientific institutions. We held oral evidence sessions on 19 July, 23 September and 25 October. We thank everyone who provided evidence. The evidence is available on our website.17

16.The Government has agreed to provide a single response to our report EU membership and UK science and to this follow up report.

17.Finally, we would like to thank our Specialist Adviser, Professor Graeme Reid, Chair of Science and Research Policy at University College London, whose expertise was invaluable throughout both our original inquiry and during this follow up investigation.

2 Science and Technology Committee, EU membership and UK science (2nd Report, Session 2015–16, HL Paper 127)

3 ‘Theresa May says “Brexit means Brexit”’, Independent (11 July 2016): http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-brexit-means-brexit-conservative-leadership-no-attempt-remain-inside-eu-leave-europe-a7130596.html [accessed 14 November 2016]

4 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research (Seventh Report, Session 2016–17, HC 502)

5 Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Statement on higher education and research following the EU referendum, 28 June 2016: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/statement-on-higher-education-and-research-following-the-eu-referendum [accessed 8 November 2016]

6 UK Parliament, Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research (28 June 2016): http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/science-and-technology-committee/news-parliament-2015/leaving-the-eu-inquiry-launch-16-17/ [accessed 8 November 2016]

8 ‘EU membership and UK science follow-up investigation launched’, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee (26 July 2016): http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/science-and-technology-committee/news-parliament-2015/eu-uk-science-follow-up/ [accessed 8 November 2016]

9 ‘Safeguarding funding for research and innovation’, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (13 August 2016): https://www.gov.uk/government/news/safeguarding-funding-for-research-and-innovation [accessed 8 November 2016]

10 ‘Brexit begins: Theresa May takes axe to EU laws’, The Telegraph (2 October 2016): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/01/brexit-begins-theresa-may-takes-axe-to-eu-laws/ [accessed 8 November 2016]

11 Q 52 (Jo Johnson MP)

12 ‘Brexit court defeat for UK government’, BBC News (3 November 2016): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37857785 [accessed 8 November 2016]

13 Science and Technology Committee, Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research (Seventh Report, Session 2016–17, HC 502)

14 Prime Minister Theresa May, Speech at the CBI annual conference 2016, 21 November 2016: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/cbi-annual-conference-2016-prime-ministers-speech [accessed 7 December 2016]

15 HM Treasury, Autumn Statement 2016 (23 November 2016): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/autumn-statement-2016-documents/autumn-statement-2016 [accessed 7 December 2016]

16 ‘Supreme Court Brexit case: ‘No need’ for MPs to get final say’, BBC News (5 December 2026): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-38200115 [accessed 7 December 2016]

17 Evidence published online is available at: http://www.parliament.uk/hlscience

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