The post-Brexit future of UK science is murky

By Jack Eardley

A recent government paper entitled “Collaboration on Science and Innovation” revealed at least some detail of the government’s plans to maintain the competitiveness of UK science.

Many news outlets were, however, quick to criticise the position as overly ambitious to the point of fantasy. The paper refers to numerous EU and non-EU scientific funding organisations and frequently targets re-entering these organisations as an independent state after Brexit. Many of these organisations currently have no clear mechanism for this or are likely to allow it only on the condition of reduced influence for the independent members.

The depressing reality for UK scientists is that the best outcome is no change, and the worst could be more difficulties with funding and collaboration It is probably accurate to describe this paper as overly ambitious. Even if, after the Brexit dust has settled, the government negotiators’ manage to muscle their way back into all of these funding and collaboration groups, we will be at exactly the same point we were at just before Brexit.

This is all without even considering the freedom of movement shaped elephant in the room, which will no doubt be a sticking point for the European negotiators. The recent paper is clear that complete freedom of movement to the UK will end, but seems to expect researchers to be able to maintain their freedom of movement throughout Europe. If such an arrangement is possible then yet again this enormous and complex negotiation will result in UK science being in exactly the position it was before the referendum.

This news is not a surprise to the scientific community as pre-referendum polls conducted by Nature saw British scientists in favour of Remain by a margin greater than four to one. Out of the scientists who wanted Brexit, when asked if they thought it could have a positive effect on UK science a majority expected the process to have no influence.

It is still early in the negotiation process, so we can only hope that UK science manages to survive this political black hole.

Photograph: Pixabay

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