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S&T Committee report on leaving the EU

18 Nov 2016

Sarah Main, CaSE Director, reflects on the S&T committee’s report Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee today published its report, “Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research”. The committee were quick in their response to the referendum vote, launching the inquiry on 28th June, just five days after the vote. I was pleased to be able to give evidence to the committee and I’m delighted they have backed a number of CaSE positions.

In bold tones, the committee calls on Government to reduce uncertainty in the science sector caused by Brexit. The committee challenges Government to deliver on Theresa May’s statement in her letter to Sir Paul Nurse in July that ‘providing reassurance to these researchers [researchers from Europe and around the world in the UK] and to UK researchers working in Europe will be a priority for the Government’. Chair of the committee, Stephen Metcalfe, who took over from Nicola Blackwood during the inquiry, says:

“Uncertainty over Brexit threatens to undermine some of the UK’s ongoing international scientific collaborations. Telling EU scientists and researchers already working in the UK that they are allowed to stay is one way the Government could reduce that uncertainty right away.”

He goes on to call for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to science in the autumn statement, placing science at the heart of the industrial strategy. Once again, the committee reiterate their call for Government to increase investment in R&D to 3% of GDP.

The committee calls for Government to develop and propagate an ambitious vision for science, beyond being ‘open for business’ and looking to secure ‘a positive outcome’. They press for a comprehensive strategy to communicate Government’s ongoing support for science, including to key audiences in other countries.

The committee highlights the need for a voice for science in the Brexit negotiations, arguing for a formal role for the chair of UKRI in cross-Government negotiations and that appointment of a Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department for Exiting the EU should be a matter of priority.

“We are not convinced that the needs of science and research are at the heart of DExEU’s thinking and planning for Brexit. That’s why we are calling on DExEU to hire a Chief Scientific Advisor as a matter of priority. The concerns and needs of our world class research establishments and scientists working in the UK must be heard at the negotiating table.”

They summarise the five key issues raised by the science community during evidence sessions as:

Funding – in particular the need to secure ongoing access to EU sources such as Horizon 2020 and its successors

People – specifically the attractiveness of the UK as a place to live, work and study, and the need to provide guarantees to those already working here.

Collaboration – for UK researchers to continue to be part of multi-national projects and continue to influence the EU’s research agenda and strategic direction

Regulation – ensuring that regulations which facilitate research collaboration and access to the EU market are retained, and those which hinder innovation are revised.

Facilities – concerns about the ability of UK researchers to continue to access EU research facilities in other countries, and the need to protect the future of those currently hosted in the UK.