Here's why science should take a seat at the Brexit negotiation table
- Published: Wednesday, 13 July 2016 10:53
- Written by Graeme Reid
The UK’s research relationship with the EU works well - Theresa May should use it to help to lubricate Brexit negotiations rather than add to its challenges.
The science community is dismayed by the outcome of the referendum. But Theresa May, our new prime minister, has made her position clear: “Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a success of it.”
Much now depends on how the PM uses the recently-created Brexit Unit in the Cabinet Office. If the science community wants a good deal in the UK’s new relationship with the EU, it needs a strong voice from the outset in negotiations. That means persuading the PM and her team of the crucial role of science in the UK’s future, and the importance of Europe to this country’s research strengths.
The rights of scientists and others who have moved across national frontiers within the EU requires clarification urgently. For research collaboration and funding, science minister Jo Johnson and European Commissioner Carlos Moedas have tried to reassure researchers that there will be no immediate changes. But already there are worrying reports of promising research proposals running into the sand. The science and technology committees in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have been quick to launch further inquiries into what Brexit will mean for science. The Campaign for Science and Engineering is also hosting a series of meetings to discuss next steps.
Scientists have a big stake in the Brexit process and plenty of well-informed advice to offer. But no matter how loudly we shout, we will be one of a crowd of special interest groups clamouring for attention. Tourism, agriculture, health, transport, banking, manufacturing exporters and many others could each make compelling claims for seats at the table.
However, the rules of the game are not yet written. Are scientists trying to be heard by a government that wants a clean break with the EU, or by one aiming for a nuanced Brexit with many existing arrangements protected? Will the UK negotiate with a coherent team from the rest of the EU or will arguments break out between Brussels and other member states? Will the unity of the UK come under pressure from Scottish nationalists? Will the mood of negotiations change as we approach the 2017 presidential elections in Germany and France? Will Parliament here be tied up in legal knots before the Brexit process even begins?
Independent views from Graeme Reid, National Centre Strategic Advisor, professor of science and research policy at University College London. Graeme is a former senior official in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.