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

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

1.The Government’s commitment to underwrite Horizon 2020 funding with new money is significant and welcome. The Government should try to enable scientists in the UK to retain access to Horizon 2020 and other EU funding post-Brexit. In the light of the UK’s science credentials and given that a number of countries outside the EU already have access to this funding, we would expect the EU and the UK Government to agree terms under which this access remains open. (Paragraph 25)

2.We recognise this major increase in funding as a signal that the Government is putting significantly greater emphasis on science to deliver its long term objectives in addition to any replacement of EU funding. This is a highly encouraging development at a time when the future role of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is being considered during the passage of the Higher Education and Research Bill through Parliament. (Paragraph 28)

3.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. (Paragraph 30)

4.We note that the Government continues to seek hard evidence of discrimination against UK researchers in EU funding or collaboration. While there appears so far to be a scarcity of hard evidence, there is a clear perception in the scientific community that discrimination is occurring, perhaps in ways that will never be documented explicitly. This reinforces the importance of early and repeated reassurances from the Government on funding arrangements. (Paragraph 38)

5.We recommend that the Government should publish in anonymised, aggregate form any evidence received of discrimination against UK researchers in EU funding or collaboration, along with its own assessment of whether the concerns put forward have been addressed by subsequent reassurances or other policy interventions. (Paragraph 39)

6.We recognise that at this early stage, there is little documented evidence of scientists from other EU Member States deciding not to come to the UK because of the EU referendum, or of UK scientists deciding not to work in other EU Member States for that reason. But nervousness about immigration and nationality persists in the science community. The delay in solid reassurances and mixed messages from senior ministers is having a corrosive effect on the UK research base. (Paragraph 50)

7.It is essential that a robust evidence base is assembled to ensure that any necessary remedial action can be taken at the earliest possible stage. The Government and the wider science community should search in the short and medium terms for any early indications of change in the attractiveness of the UK to talented scientists. (Paragraph 51)

8.We welcome Jo Johnson MP’s reassurance but we find the Home Secretary’s attitude towards student immigration less than helpful. We reiterate the recommendations we made in our 2014 report, International STEM students that:

9.In the light of the EU referendum, the need for Government action on this issue is all the more pressing and the Home Secretary’s speech deeply worrying. Whilst recognising that immigration is a highly politically charged issue, we would remind the Government that the public’s views on immigration are more nuanced than newspaper headlines might suggest. We urge the Government in the strongest possible terms to take action. (Paragraph 59)

10.In the short term the Government should send repeated signals to the global science community that the UK remains a welcoming place for talented scientists. (Paragraph 60)

11.We recommend that the Government, through its global science and innovation network, or the British Council, should perform annual surveys around the world assessing the UK’s reputation in the global scientific community as a welcoming place to pursue a scientific career. The results of these surveys should be published. (Paragraph 61)

12.The EU referendum result and mixed messages from the Government may well undermine the shared ambitions of the Government and the research community to welcome talented scientists to the UK. We therefore recommend that the Government should take decisive steps to promote the UK as a first class location for research careers and an attractive partner for international collaboration. Some components of this global initiative are already in place and need only be enhanced in scale and emphasis. Actions the Government might take which we have identified in the course of our private deliberations include:

13.The expansion of these programmes should be subject to the rigorous review and value for money appraisals that apply to existing research funding. (Paragraph 66)

14.But the expansion of existing programmes is not enough. At the highest levels in the world of science, it is not sufficient for the UK just to permit the world’s most accomplished scientists to work in the UK. The UK must search for these scientists and persuade them to pursue careers here. These scientific leaders may well be magnets for investment by international businesses and not for profit organisations. (Paragraph 67)

15.The evidence we received set out many of the challenges facing UK science after the EU referendum. In the following paragraph we outline a scheme to attract outstanding scientific leaders to the UK which we would ask the Government to consider. The scheme draws upon our collective experience of science, business and academia, and we believe that it would help both to tackle the challenges identified in the evidence and to make progress towards the desired end point of UK science flourishing post-Brexit. (Paragraph 68)

16.We recommend that the Government asks National Academies and the new UKRI to search the globe 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. This initiative should receive resources beyond the existing science and research budget to ensure that it does not undermine support for the existing UK science community. (Paragraph 69)

17.We urge the Government to consult the science community in the short- and medium-term to identify opportunities for bold long-term moves to reinforce the UK’s global standing in science. This could include the UK offering to host, in partnership with governments and funding bodies from other countries, one or more new international research facilities on the scale of the Diamond Light Source in Harwell or the Francis Crick Institute in London, together with existing and new networks. We expect that all such moves should be subject to the rigorous review and value for money appraisals that apply to existing research funding. (Paragraph 76)

18.The Government is already making clear efforts to build trade relationships around the world: it should pursue similar activities in the scientific domain, exploring collaborations and shared protocols with Governments and funding agencies in major scientific nations, particularly where existing relationships are already strong. (Paragraph 79)

19.It is unlikely that the concerns relating to the cost and complexity of administering distinctive UK regulatory arrangements for the life science sector if the UK diverges from EU standards identified by Mr Lawford Davies are confined to the medical and life sciences. We are unaware of any analysis of the costs and benefits within the science domain of any regulatory reforms which may appear as a consequence of the Great Repeal Bill. (Paragraph 88)

20.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 following the Great Repeal Bill. That assessment should include, but not be limited to, the scientific dimensions of medical, agricultural, energy, environmental, transport and telecommunications regulation. (Paragraph 89)

21.We urge the Minister to publish the results of this assessment before the Great Repeal Bill is enacted. (Paragraph 90)

22.The Government must ensure that it has appropriate scientific advice during the Brexit negotiations. We share the disappointment voiced by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in its report Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research that the Department for Exiting the European Union is not currently progressing with appointing a departmental Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA). (Paragraph 93)

23.The voice of the scientific community should be heard alongside the voice of business during the Brexit negotiations and in making future alliances. We urge the Government in the short term to 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 may be required for trade negotiations. (Paragraph 94)

24.The development of an Industrial Strategy during the UK’s departure from the EU is a major opportunity for the Government to strengthen its support for UK science and increase its role in the economy. We welcome Jo Johnson MP’s expansive view of the scope of the Industrial Strategy and the alignment with the Industrial Strategy of the new funding announced by the Prime Minister on 21 November. We will follow the development of the Industrial Strategy with interest and may scrutinise it further in the short to medium term. (Paragraph 104)

25.Within the framework of the Industrial Strategy and in view of this new funding, we hope that UKRI will be given the freedom to support projects on their merit, assessed by peer review. We also hope that UKRI will be free to use this funding to support international collaborations with partners in EU Member States and elsewhere if these provide the most attractive propositions. (Paragraph 105)

26.Unless the negative effects of Brexit are mitigated, the UK will inevitably become a less attractive destination for talented people, research and development (R&D) investors and scientific partners. Fortunately, the Government has the power to mitigate many effects of Brexit and could use the Industrial Strategy and other interventions not only to compensate for Brexit, but to further increase the attractiveness of the UK as a place to pursue science careers and invest in R&D. This is a time for bold steps to prepare our country for life outside the constraints and opportunities of EU membership, but with a far more prominent place in the global economy. (Paragraph 106)

27.In addition to the changes recommended in Chapters 2 and 3, the following mitigating changes could be made within the wider context of the Industrial Strategy:

28.We welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to review current R&D tax incentives and the announcement of a review of the Small Business Research Initiative. (Paragraph 108)

29.The Government should take advantage of Brexit and review current rules on VAT exemption on sharing of buildings, equipment and facilities for the purposes of R&D, to support industry, academia and charity collaborations and attract further inward investment. (Paragraph 111)

© Parliamentary copyright 2016