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Far-reaching consequences of Brexit for science can be tackled now

28 Mar 2017

As the UK begins the process of leaving the European Union, CaSE Executive Director, Dr Sarah Main, considers how to ensure our strength in science and engineering continues to benefit the UK. 

“The UK is exceptionally good at science and engineering. This is a great strength to Government as it negotiates our exit from the EU because it can help deliver prosperity across the UK and help forge our new global connections. But the challenges of Brexit for science are real and considerable, and the consequences far-reaching. The science and engineering community can help Government secure a good outcome from Brexit. But we need to tackle what we can now.

Hubs of excellence in science and engineering across the UK deliver jobs, prospects and wellbeing locally, and connect globally.​ ​

To build on this strength, the UK’s science sector needs from Government: certainty where possible, as soon as possible; a transition plan that incorporates differential impacts to UK regions and institutions; and ambitious goals that set Britain’s sights on being a global scientific leader for the long term. 

CaSE are working with the Government and the science and engineering community to establish a ‘recipe for success’ as a scientific nation. The sector are clear that the four major factors for a successful outcome for science from Brexit are: people, collaboration, investment and regulation.

This simplicity belies the challenges of forming new ideas and systems in the uncertainty of negotiation. We will work with Government throughout the negotiations to shape the options as they develop. But where possible, Government should take decisions that are in its gift as soon as possible. For example, Government can use the new industrial strategy to provide clarity on its approach to developing and attracting the skilled people needed to deliver it, and the investment to underpin it. By taking the lead on domestic policy for research and innovation, the Government will strengthen its position globally and in negotiations with the EU.

The UK’s science base is already globally networked. Unusually, compared to other countries, over half of business spend on R&D in the UK is by companies headquartered overseas. The UK’s universities are global institutions, attracting talent from all over the world and many with campuses abroad. The UK’s rational approach has made it an influential leader in regulation of new technologies. So our scientific success will be sensitive to international connectivity: in politics, trade, regulation and collaboration.

If I had one wish granted during the Brexit process, it would be that Government take full advantage of the technical expertise, analysis, advice and evidence on offer from the scientific community and are transparent in using it. Government should uphold and champion the use of evidence in its decisions, positions and public rationale. I believe this would put us in the best possible position for our transition to a new place in the world. It would help Government be informed and strategic in its decisions, expert in its technical negotiations, prepared for new responsibilities, and transparent with the public.”