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British Society for Immunology Congress 2017

14 Dec 2017

CaSE Deputy Director Naomi Weir on her experience as a panellist at this years’ BSI Congress in Brighton.

Last week I had the privilege of speaking on a panel on Brexit at the British Society for Immunology Congress in Brighton. It may have been a measure of the level of interest in the subject, or it could have been that it looked like a scene from the Perfect Storm outside, but the combination meant that the lunchtime session was very well attended. After brief introductory comments by my fellow panellist, local MP Peter Kyle, and me, we spent the majority of the time on questions from the audience.

Many of the questions related to different areas of uncertainty facing individuals as a result of Brexit; ability to remain in the UK, concern about changes to funding and migration making cross-border collaboration more difficult. Many of the other questions reflected a desire to know how they as individuals and we collectively as a sector can best influence the outcome of the Brexit process.

On uncertainty, we weren’t able to provide any assurances as the difficulty with Brexit is that uncertainty will be an enduring feature of the process. Since the Congress, the major announcement of the joint statement from the EU team and the UK has provided some welcome news. It sets out where they’ve got to so far, including some progress on EU citizens’ rights and UK participation in programmes up to the end of the budget period (which we understand includes the full remainder of Horizon 2020). However, it seems that as nothing is finalised until everything is agreed so it seems uncertainty will continue to linger.

The other thing Peter Kyle was very keen to assert is that he is always careful to say ‘if’ we leave the EU. He is campaigning for all options to be on the table so that there is a meaningful decision by the public before the end of the Article 50 period as to whether the preference is for whatever type of Brexit is being proposed or halting the process altogether. Therefore one of the major things he is focusing on in this next phase is to raise awareness amongst the public that the UK is still in a position to change its mind and halt the Brexit process if it so chooses.

But on the questions around what can we do, I hope we were able to provide some practical suggestions. Peter gave some insight to engaging with your constituency MP and with the vote in Parliament this week to give Parliament a meaningful vote on the final deal, every local MP counts! So do introduce yourself, your work and your views. Collectively there is a lot of work going on by CaSE with others to ensure there is a joined up, consistent message from science being heard amid the noise of Brexit – on both sides of the Channel.

We look forward to continuing to work with our members, including the BSI, and others across the sector – and beyond – to ensure there is a thriving environment for science and engineering in the UK in the years ahead.

Photo credits © British Society for Immunology/Simon Callaghan