Skip to content

CaSE’s response to Science and Technology Committee on Brexit ‘No-Deal’ inquiry

05 Feb 2019

CaSE has published its evidence to the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee inquiry into preparations for a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit and its implications for science and engineering.

This submission sets out what CaSE considers to be the most important issues for science and engineering in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit and highlights the possible consequences that the Government needs to be aware of.


We have assumed ‘no-deal Brexit’ means the UK leaving the European Union and all its legal and regulatory frameworks without a negotiated withdrawal agreement, with no transition period and no negotiated ‘side-deals’ on specific issues between the UK and the EU at the point of departure. 

This analysis is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all the possible issues for science and engineering in the event of a no-deal Brexit, rather it discusses some of what CaSE considers to be the most important issues and uses examples of what might happen in various areas to highlight possible consequences that the Government needs to be aware of and plan for. This analysis comes under three headings:

  1. Uncertainty for people and business
  2. Short term impact
  3. Long term impact

1. Uncertainty for people and business

The uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU and the status of EU citizens living in the UK has led to declines in applications for jobs and postgraduate courses in the UK from EU nationals. In the event of a no-deal scenario, the uncertainty is likely to be prolonged because the future relationship between the UK and the EU will still be unknown and the legal frameworks that currently exists will fall away. CaSE urges the Government to provide clarity on the status of EU citizens coming to the UK after a no-deal Brexit.

Regulation and Competitiveness
The uncertainty created by the decision to leave the EU is also a risk to the UK’s competitiveness in the short term. In a no-deal exit the uncertainty surrounding the regulatory environment in the UK is likely to increase and last for some time as the current legal framework for the relationship between the UK and EU will cease to exist. While most EU law will be copied into UK law by the EU Withdrawal Act it is not clear how the Government will seek to change retained EU law or how the UK will interact with the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit. 

2. Short term impact

Our definition of ‘no-deal’ means no transition period. Therefore, there are likely to be numerous impacts in the short term and the Government will need to react quickly to implement contingencies rapidly and efficiently.

Potential loss of EU funding for research and innovation
Most universities receive between 15-35% of their competitive funding from Europe. The Government should assess the impact of the disproportionate dependence on EU research funding in some disciplines, sectors, universities and regions. The Government must set out how it plans to mitigate the loss of EU funding on vulnerable areas of research. 

To date, the UK has secured over €5.1bn of Horizon 2020 funding since the inception of the programme in 2014, the second largest recipient of funding . A ‘no-deal’ Brexit would result in the UK falling out of the Horizon 2020 programme and respective grant holders would no longer be eligible to receive Horizon 2020 funding. The Government has pledged that in the event of a no deal, grant funding awarded to UK institutions would be underwritten to make up for the loss of EU funding. The Government needs to provide details on its preparedness to implement the underwrite guarantee, including whether it has detailed administrative mechanisms in place to administer the guarantee if it becomes necessaryFurthermore, the Government must confirm that the money for the underwrite will be new money and not taken from existing research budgets.

The Erasmus+ programme provides an invaluable opportunity for students and staff to learn, teach or work across Europe. In 2015/16, 15,756 UK-based students spent time in Europe, in addition to 2,625 staff members. In the event of a no-deal exit the UK will cease to be a part of the Erasmus programme. The UK Government has said its underwriting guarantee will ‘cover the payment of awards to UK applicants for all successful Erasmus+ bids submitted before the UK exits the EU’. However, despite the funding guarantee, the continuation of these programmes in a no-deal situation will be subject to ‘agreement with the EU for UK organisations to continue participating in Erasmus+ projects’.  

The Government must set out what contingencies it has in place to negotiate continued involvement in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus in the event of a no-deal Brexit and whether any discussions have taken place with the European Commission on this. It should also confirm that the Government is aware of the impact of external factors on any negotiations, including that the UK will no longer be able to influence internal EU timeframes and deadlines for negotiation.

In the event of continued involvement for the UK in these programs being unavailable, the Government must set out what plans it has to replace these programs.

Import and export of products required for research
Much has been made of the future movement of goods between the UK and EU in the event of no deal, including stockpiling of vehicle parts and medicines in the UK. The breadth and complexity of issues facing the research sector with regards to movement of goods and equipment in no deal include – but are not limited to – animals, hardware & instrumentation, plastic waste, medical physics, radioisotopes and chemicals. 

The Government should indicate it’s state of preparedness to ensure products and feedstocks will be available to UK research organisations and that UK organisations can continue to export products for and of research to the EU.

Access to Scientific Networks and Data
UK and EU decision-makers would immediately lose access to each other’s scientific networks and databases that provide data and information for regulatory decision-making. 

3. Long term impact

Due to the intertwined nature of UK and EU funding streams in recent years, a situation has developed where some fields of research are more dependent on EU funding than others, both for competitive research funding but also for facilities and networks. 

It is not just funding and participation in Horizon Europe that is at risk. There are a range of other EU research and development programs. Some of these are open to EU member states only whereas for others it is not clear whether membership or associate membership is open to non-member states. The  Government must make clear what assessment it has made of no-deal on eligibility for the full range of EU R&D programmes, what the impact of ineligibility would be on UK science and what contingencies it has in place in the event of ineligibility.

The UK’s reputation as a place to do R&D
Since the referendum, the unclear direction of Brexit negotiations between the EU and the UK have created a great deal of uncertainty. Prolonged uncertainty is likely to have a negative impact on the UK’s reputation as an attractive location for R&D investment by businesses or as a destination for a researcher to develop their career. It could also affect the UK’s reputation as a reliable international partner.

The UK’s science and innovation sector is affected by 34 European regulatory agencies . In the event of a no-deal Brexit the UK would no longer be part of these agencies and they would no longer have authority in the UK to enforce regulation or provide approvals. It will be a long-term project to build up domestic agencies to take the place of these European agencies. 

Partnerships outside Europe
In the light of Brexit some universities and research institutes are re-assessing the balance of their global partnerships and are seeking new partnership opportunities outside the EU, in, for example, China and South-east Asia. However, this is likely to take place in the event of a negotiated Brexit and it is unlikely to change as a result of a no-deal Brexit. In any case, new partnerships outside the EU and a good relationship and collaboration with institutions within the EU are not mutually exclusive. 

CaSE’s members have routinely told us that the strength of the UK’s skills base and ease of access to talent are the most important factors in the attractiveness of the UK as a place to do research. In order to meet the Government’s target of investing 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027, the UK will need to increase the size of the research and innovation workforce. Any future immigration policy must be able to facilitate the types of people and types of movement required for a thriving science and engineering sector .

In the event of a no deal, and the absence of a mobility agreement with the EU, the rights of citizens to move to and from the UK will be subject to great uncertainty, as we discussed above. In the longer term, the UK will most likely have to develop its own unilateral immigration system if freedom of movement ends as the Government has set out. Developing a new immigration system will be particularly pressing in the event of a no-deal Brexit in the absence of any transitional arrangements. Government’s longer-term preparations to implement a new immigration system in the event of a no deal. 

To support the development of a new immigration system, CaSE has published a briefing that summarises the current non-EEA immigration system, sets out where the pressure points are for science and engineering and presents our proposals for a new system.

View the accompanying press release.

Download the full response