COMMONS

Government should reduce Brexit uncertainty for science sector

18 November 2016

The Government should make an immediate commitment to exempt EU scientists and researchers already working in the UK from wider potential immigration controls, MPs on the Science and Technology Committee have demanded.

Chair's comments

Science and Technology Committee Chair Stephen Metcalfe MP said:

"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."

Planning for the UK‘s exit negotiations is still underway and uncertainty remains about our future relationship with the EU. The MPs are therefore calling on the Government to act quickly and set out a vision for science.

Funding

The Committee wants to see the Government commit in the Autumn Statement to raise science expenditure as a percentage of GDP.

Stephen Metcalfe MP said:

"The forthcoming Autumn Statement is a chance for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to making science and research a linchpin of our economy after Brexit and to place it at the heart of an emerging Industrial Strategy. As a Science nation we know we already punch well above our weight, but when it comes to research and development funding we are falling behind other developed nations. If we want to make the most of the economic opportunities that Brexit could bring, we must increase our science funding in line with key competitors like Germany and the US."

Strategy

The Committee also believes it is vital, in light of the continuing uncertainty about the risks and opportunities associated with leaving the EU for UK science and research, that the Government has a comprehensive communication strategy.

Stephen Metcalfe MP added:

"The Government has provided some helpful and welcome short-term reassurances for the science community – on funding for research and access to student loans – but it needs to do more to make sure its message gets through."

Negotiations

The Committee also points to the importance of UK science having a strong voice in the negotiations. It argues that the new Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) should urgently appoint a Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA).

Stephen Metcalfe MP said:

"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."

Evidence

Evidence submitted to the Committee’s inquiry showed that the science community’s hopes and fears for the future revolved around five key issues:

  • 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.

Image: iStockphoto

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