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STEMM MPs who left Westminster in 2019

20 Jan 2020

We take a look at those MPs with an interest in STEMM that stood down or lost their seat in the recent election

The recent election saw not one, but two former science ministers leave Parliament. Jo Johnson, Science Minister from 2015 to 2018 and a brief stint in 2019 decided not to stand in the election and has recently become Chair of Tes, an education group operating worldwide. Sam Gyimah, Science Minister for 11 months in 2018, crossed the house in 2019 to join the Liberal Democrats and was not re-elected after standing for his new party in Kensington. These former ministers were not the only MPs with an interest in science and engineering who left the House and we will take a moment to reflect on some of their achievements in parliament. 

Jo Johnson’s time as Science Minister began in 2015 following the general election that year. He introduced the Higher Education and Research Act in 2017, paving the way for significant changes to the research funding landscape in the UK. The legislation replaced the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) with the Office for Students and Research England, the former to act as an independent regulator for higher education in England and the latter to replace HEFCE research and knowledge exchange functions for universities. The Act also brought about the creation of UKRI, the bringing together of the seven UK-wide research councils, the newly formed Research England and Innovate UK. The Act also enshrined the Haldane Principle into law for the first time, ensuring funding for research would continue to be decided by experts rather than by central Government. In the reshuffle of early 2018, Johnson was moved to become Minister of Transport, before finding his way back to his post as Science Minister following his brother, Boris Johnson, becoming Prime Minister. His return to the role saw him attend Cabinet meetings before he unexpectedly resigned in September 2019, announcing that he would be standing down as an MP at the next election. 

Sam Gyimah took up the role of Science Minister in the same reshuffle that saw Johnson move to the Department for Transport. Gyimah interacted with universities in particular, documenting his travels across the country using #samoncampus across social media. He became increasingly frustrated with the then Government’s negotiating position on Brexit, particularly with regards to the UK’s future involvement in the European satellite navigation system Galileo, before resigning in November 2018 stating he could not support the Government’s plan on exiting the EU. He remained on the Conservative backbenches until September 2019, when he was removed from the party after voting against the Government’s no-deal Brexit plan. Less than two weeks later, Gyimah joined the Liberal Democrats and was named as their Shadow BEIS secretary. He also served on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee until parliament was dissolved ahead of the recent election. Gyimah left his old seat in East Surrey to stand in the Kensington and Chelsea constituency, ultimately finishing third.

Another Liberal Democrat MP, the newly knighted Sir Norman Lamb also left the House of Commons in 2019 stepping down after 18 years as MP for North Norfolk. Sir Norman briefly served as a Junior Minister in BIS during the coalition Government before becoming chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee after the 2017 election. He oversaw a wide range of inquiries during his two year chairmanship, including becoming the first parliamentary committee to take live questions from Twitter during an oral evidence session. Another Committee chair, Sarah Wollaston, lost her seat in the recent election. A former GP, she served as chair of the Health Select Committee for five years and was a fervent campaigner on health issues. Wollaston resigned from the Conservative party in February 2019, briefly joining Change UK before becoming a member of the Liberal Democrats in August.

There are a few other MPs who are no longer in the Commons who have supported science and engineering during their time in the Palace. Roberta Blackman-Woods and Sarah Newton were both former members of the Commons Science and Technology Committee and former board members of POST. Phillip Lee and Paul Williams, both qualified doctors with the former also being a POST board member, lost their seats while Liz McInnes, a former biochemist also left the Commons following the election.