UK scientists seek closer relationship with US after Brexit

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A wider partnership could give UK researchers even more access to US facilities

The UK and US are in talks to extend their “special relationship” in science after the UK leaves the European Union, the BBC understands.

British institutions are in talks with their US colleagues to try to make it easier for scientists to travel, collaborate and share facilities.

Research Councils UK said it would deliver benefits for both countries.

UK research groups are currently marketing themselves at the US’s largest scientific meeting in Boston.

Thirty-three researchers are speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference and over 200 scientists and science policy specialists are also attending.

Prof Philip Nelson, chair of Research Councils UK and part of the British delegation, told BBC News: “We all reap the social and economic benefits when the best researchers in the world can freely collaborate and share ideas, knowledge and facilities.

“The US and the UK are two of the world’s preeminent science, research and innovation nations”.

The hope eventually is to develop ways to make it easier for researchers in the US and the UK to work together on big flagship projects.

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America and Britain were key partners on the project to decode the human genome

The impetus for the deal came following the UK referendum result to leave the European Union.

British universities, in collaboration with small businesses, receive £850m in research grants each year from membership of the EU’s research programmes. EU membership also makes it easy to form collaborations.

But there are fears that much of the funding and collaborative work with EU scientists will be in jeopardy once the UK leaves the union.

British researchers are being encouraged to foster links with other nations. While most, if not all, research leaders are still dismayed by the referendum result, some are beginning to become excited by what they see as an opportunity for greater collaboration with America.

A spokesman for Britain’s Department for Business Enterprise and Industrial Strategy, which overseas science, said that developing scientific collaborations with countries outside the EU was a priority: “As we prepare to leave the EU, we are determined to secure the best possible outcome for our world-leading research base.

“Our international relationships make us a global centre of excellence and we want to enable UK researchers to partner with the best in the world, gaining access to large-scale facilities with unique resources.”

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Anna Hogg

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UK and US scientists recently announced a major joint venture to study part of West Antarctica

James Wilsdon, professor of research policy at the University of Sheffield welcomed the new initiative.

“We need to lift our sights and look beyond Europe, for opportunities to deepen and extend the collaborative networks that are so central to 21st Century science and innovation.

“The US and UK remain two of the world’s science superpowers, and researchers in both countries will grab with open arms any measures that can better enable fast and frictionless collaboration.

“I hope this is the first in a wave of new bilateral agreements, involving both EU and non-EU countries, that can restore vital connective tissue between UK and international research networks, that may otherwise be ripped apart by Brexit.”

Prof Venki Ramakrishnan, the current president of the Royal Society, is in Boston for the AAAS meeting.

He told BBC News: “Science is becoming increasingly international and the UK and US are already at the forefront of that.

“Greater cooperation between our two countries would undoubtedly be a good thing and would benefit everyone but it should be regarded as an addition to, rather than a substitute for, cooperation with our European colleagues.

“The prime minister has already highlighted the importance of continuing to collaborate with the EU in science and there is enough top quality research in the UK to expand collaboration with other international partners.”

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