Brexit uncertainty ‘corrosive’ for science

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The report welcomes an increase to science funding announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement

Uncertainty over the nature of the UK’s future relationship with the EU is having a “corrosive” effect on science, a House of Lords report says.

The report highlights what it says is a “delay in solid reassurances” on Brexit and “mixed messages” from ministers.

The report welcomes the increase to science funding announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement.

But it says bold steps are needed to ensure the UK continues to attract the best scientific talent.

Pro-Brexit campaigners reject the suggestions of negative consequences shared by other scientists and believe the UK will retain its ability to influence EU science policy on leaving.

“At this early stage, there is little documented evidence of scientists from other EU member states deciding not to come to the UK because of the EU referendum,” the report from the Lords Science and Technology Committee says.

But it adds that ministers and the wider community should be on the look-out for “any early indications of change in the attractiveness of the UK to talented scientists”.

The report also highlights the importance of freedom of movement.

It recommends the government distinguishes in statistics between students and other immigrants and treats student numbers separately for immigration policy making purposes.

The committee also recommends that the government assesses the need for a scientific adviser role in the Department for International Trade.

Lord Selborne, the committee’s chairman, said: “We welcome the major increase in science funding announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement and the government’s separate assurance that it will underwrite funding for approved Horizon 2020 projects applied for before Brexit.

“The UK’s outstanding reputation and performance in the scientific world depends critically on redoubling efforts to persuade many of the world’s most talented scientists to pursue careers in this country.”

He added: “It is vital the UK is still seen as open to scientific talent; the government has the ability to send this message to the scientific community enabling us to become world leaders after Brexit and beyond.”

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said he would carefully consider the recommendations. He commented: “The excellence of our research and the attractiveness of the UK as a lead destination for science and innovation are fundamental to the future success of this country. That is why our upcoming Industrial Strategy will place science and innovation at its core.

“As we prepare to leave the EU, we are determined to secure the best possible outcome for our research base. We’ve made a substantial investment in the sector – pledging an extra £2 billion a year by 2020/21, the biggest increase in decades. In addition, HMT will guarantee competitively awarded EU research funding, bid for while we remain a member of the EU.”

The report is a follow-up on the findings of an inquiry published earlier this year.