Brexit: what does it mean for science? Expert reaction

Brexit is a reality – Britain has voted to leave the European Union. With the shock waves beginning to be felt, our colleagues at the Australian and UK Science Media Centres collected the following expert commentary from scientists regarding the implications of the Brexit vote.

From the AusSMC:

Professor Les Field AM FAA is Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science

“Brexit is likely to cause significant disruption to international collaborative research programs involving the UK, and to the extent that Australian researchers engage in those programs, there will likely be some impacts here.

“However, there are strong natural links between Australia and the UK, and it is possible that the decision may provide opportunities for Australian researchers. The UK will now potentially be more open to the rest of the world – having the UK as part of the EU has often meant that there was preferential access to positions, resources, collaborations etc for those that were part of the EU and lifting that restriction may provide new opportunities for Australia.”

From the UK SMC:

Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says:

“The UK has a globally excellent and highly productive research and innovation base, to which EU support, both financial and non-financial, has contributed. Engineering contributes at least 20% of the UK’s gross value added and accounts for half our exports. It is vital that the economy is carefully managed in the wake of the Brexit vote in order to maintain our world-leading position in innovation and industrial development.”
“The Royal Academy of Engineering is a national Academy with a global outlook, and we will continue to work with partners both within and outside of the European Union to make the UK a leading nation for engineering innovation, and to help address the global challenges of our time.”

 Professor Peter Openshaw, President of the British Society for Immunology (BSI), said:

“Today’s announcement that the UK has voted to leave the European Union reflects public opinion, based on many valid concerns. However, immunology shares with other branches of science an in-built internationalism that must continue to thrive, whatever the political climate.

“UK scientists have always been at the forefront of immunology, working in the UK or overseas. We are in the middle of exciting times for immunology, with many treatments for previously incurable diseases emerging from decades of hard investment.

“A great example of internationalism is our annual Congress in December – a joint meeting with Dutch immunologists. This will showcase research from across Europe and the rest of the world. We must continue to celebrate our internationalism, not limiting ourselves to Europe but reaching out world-wide.

“Today’s referendum may come as a disappointment for many of us. Indeed, most of our best labs are staffed by a rich mix of talented scientist from around the world and we in turn have great opportunities to work in, and learn from, the best labs overseas.

“We must do all we can to ensure that all these great colleagues continue to feel welcome in our laboratories and that we are free to go wherever we need to do great work. Our members must continue to participate in global teams, many of which have taken years to build.

“Our recent report on the internationalism of immunology makes a number of recommendations that will enable our work to flourish.  We urge ministers, policy makers and funders to look at these proposals and consider how they can best work with us to build on our proud heritage in immunology in this new environment.

“The BSI will continue to work with funders and decision makers to ensure that these enormously valuable international collaborations continue to shape the future of bioscience and medicine.”

Prof Bruce D Malamud, King’s College London and former President of the Natural Hazards Division of the European Geosciences Union, said:

“Research on natural hazards is often international, and UK scientists have benefited strongly from EU funding and collaboration. The result has been that the UK, within the context of the EU, has led on blue-skies and applied research to do with natural hazards, and is recognized as a leader internationally. As a community, we hope that when considering the future that UK-EU mechanisms are put into place to maintain the collaborative nature of natural hazards research and funding.”

Prof David Webb, President, British Pharmacological Society, said:

“Respecting the decision of the electorate, it is crucial that British scientists maintain healthy and productive collaborations with our European colleagues, and continue to build the strongest science within the broader international community.

The British Pharmacological Society is proud to be a global community at the heart of pharmacology: a fifth of our membership is international, our journals have a global readership, and we represent scientists from more than 60 countries worldwide. As part of the Society’s charitable mission to promote and advance the whole spectrum of pharmacology, we are committed to fulfilling the needs of our members regardless of geography.

Nevertheless, there are some areas of the relationship between the UK and EU relevant to pharmacology, such as in drug development and drug regulation, that will prove particularly challenging. The Society stands ready to represent and share its members’ considerable expertise in the development of new policy.”

The Wellcome Trust, said:

“The UK’s vote to leave the European Union is understandably causing considerable uncertainty for British science and research. Wellcome is committed to ensuring that science and research are properly considered in the exit negotiations, that existing public funding is maintained and that international collaboration is not hindered.

“Wellcome’s own funding schemes are not dependent on EU support. We are confident that our investment portfolio is well placed to weather market volatility and continue to deliver the cash flow to fund our mission. Wellcome has an AAA/Aaa (stable) credit rating from Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s.”

Prof Paul Boyle, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, and former President of Science Europe said:

“This is a shocking result for the nation and its universities and a dark day for UK science. Universities were aligned in their view that remaining in the European Union would be to the benefit of their students and staff. Now that the electorate has decided that we should leave, there needs to be some very careful negotiation about how we continue to collaborate freely with our European partners for the benefit of science, society and our economy.  We need to offer support to our European colleagues and students who are working and studying in the UK, and we need to begin campaigning immediately to protect the science budget.

“One of the priorities for higher education as well as the country in the short term will be to seek stability and reassurance. There will be questions that must be addressed over our ability to continue to access the very significant levels of European funding for research and how the government will make up for any losses, and what impact Brexit is likely to have on the mobility of students and staff between Britain and EU countries. Every effort must be made both by the government and our universities to counter any impression that this result means that the UK has become less welcoming as a study or work destination for international students and staff.

“Given the political uncertainties arising from the vote, another question will be how it will affect the passage through parliament of the Higher Education and Research Bill. Since provisions in the Bill represent a fundamental shift in the HE and research landscape, the sector will need to know as soon as possible the implications for this legislation.”

Prof Paul Younger FREng, Professor of Energy Engineering at the University of Glasgow, said:

“The vote to leave the EU introduces deformities and uncertainties into the UK energy sector at a particularly disadvantageous moment. It blasts a hole in the nascent EU Energy Union, which had been intended to achieve the connectivity needed to overcome some of the challenges of variability in renewable power generation. As the UK has the lion’s share of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal current power resources, uncertainties over connectivity to such a large market introduces doubts that will inevitably damage investor confidence. This will at very least result in delays and project cost inflation, and in many cases could lead to cancellation of mooted developments. Add to that the threat of new tariff barriers for the supply chains of the entire energy sector – from wind to nuclear new-build – and we introduce a severe new source of turbulence and confusion just when the UK’s headroom generation capacity for times of peak demand drops below zero.

“To the extent we were already fearing severe problems of grid control in coming winters, the challenges just got a whole lot worse. As a friend quipped this morning: at least there will be no need to ask the last person to leave the UK to switch the lights out – that will already have happened.”

Prof Neil Hall, Director of The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), said:

“The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) like all research institutes in the UK  benefits from EU funding but also many of our research staff are non-British EU nationals. Therefore, we currently depend on free-movement to maintain our scientific excellence and competitive edge. The ramifications of this decision will depend very much on what will replace what we have now, and I sincerely hope that the government value the UK’s leading position in research and do not hamstring us by restricting collaboration and cooperation across borders.”

Prof Steve Busby, Chair of the Biochemical Society Executive Committee, said:

“The referendum result is disappointing, as membership of the EU has brought many benefits to UK science. It is important that the Government recognises the value of molecular bioscience to the UK economy and prioritises maintaining important European collaborations and alliances that can only be of benefit to the country and the research community.”

Sir Tim Hunt, Nobel Laureate and former member of European Research Council, said:

“This is a very sad day.”

Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Biology said:

“It will be vital to recognise the importance of UK science and scientists as the terms of our EU exit begin to be considered. It is well proven that research and the biosciences are a key engine for sustainable growth and public benefit for the UK. It is essential that in our next set of economic and policy decisions we keep that in clear view and ensure that good science and research community advice is effectively heard.

“Science by its very nature is a collaboration. Strong research partnerships with EU-based scientists will continue to be essential for the UK. Ease of exchange and movement of people will remain critical. We must ensure that research currently enabled by EU funding can continue, and we must reassure the brightest and best researchers and students that the rights they have now will continue.”

Mike Thompson, CEO of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has said:

“The voice of the British people has been heard. This creates immediate challenges for future investment, research and jobs in our industry in the UK. With that being the case, we are committed to working closely with the government to agree what steps need to be taken to send a strong signal that the UK is open for business.”

Dr Sarah Main, Director of the Campaign for Science & Engineering, said:

“This outcome provides a real challenge for our sector. Science is an area where the relationship between the UK and the EU was particularly beneficial. Not least because scientists won billions of pounds of research funding for the UK (€8.8bn between 2007 and 2013), above and beyond what we put in. In addition, free movement of people in the EU made it easy for scientists to travel, collaborate and share ideas with the best in Europe and for companies and universities in the UK to easily access top talent from Europe.

Many scientists and engineers will be disappointed. The sector consistently showed huge support for EU membership. Our sector is facing great change with the Higher Education and Research bill currently going through Parliament. And leaving the EU will no doubt have huge additional impact on our universities and research businesses.

Science is one of the UK’s great strengths and works to keep us at the forefront of health, wellbeing and innovation. It is therefore vital that science is on the table when the difficult and myriad political decisions that follow are made, from immigration policy to regulation, in order to support a thriving science and engineering sector in the UK. CaSE will play our part to ensure that they do.”

Prof. Lord Martin Rees, Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge, said:

“What is especially sad is that in the referendum vote, the younger people were strongly positive. They see themselves as ‘Europeans’ with a shared culture, and recognise that our continent can best achieve growing prosperity – and tackle global challenges — through the joint exploitation of science and technology. They believe that Europe can be a progressive political force in a turbulent and multipolar world. Indeed, although the science-linked arguments are themselves compelling, they were trumped for many of us by these broader ones.

“So the referendum outcome is deeply depressing – a view shared across mainland Europe. Support for the EU was strong, especially among the young, the universities, the technical community, and a majority of our business and professional leaders.

“Despite all that, we’re landed with a frightening scenario. The UK will exit the EU; Scotland might then (with justification) seek independence -breaking up the union with England and Wales that has prevailed for more than 300 years, and seek to rejoin as a separate nation. Northern Ireland might seek to rejoin the South. Our government will be trying, of course, to negotiate new ‘customised’ links with the EU. But they’re kidding themselves if they think these can be as benign as the EU’s long-standing agreements with (for instance) Norway. You get a far better deal in a civil partnership than after an acrimonious divorce.

“David Cameron convincingly articulated the ‘in’ case. But by committing us to a referendum he triggered a deeply divisive debate dominated by his opportunist detractors – there is a lot of blame to be spread around. And he has brought about an outcome that irreversibly weakens Europe, and possible breaks up the United Kingdom too – what a devastating legacy!”

Prof Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society said:

“In the past, UK science has been well supported by EU funding. This has been an essential supplement to UK research funds. In the upcoming negotiations we must make sure that research, which is the bedrock of a sustainable economy, is not short changed, and the Government ensures that the overall funding level of science is maintained.

“One of the great strengths of UK research has always been its international nature, and we need to continue to welcome researchers and students from abroad. Any failure to maintain the free exchange of people and ideas between the UK and the international community including Europe could seriously harm UK science.

“Finally, many global challenges can only be tackled by countries working together and it is easier to work together when policy and regulation are consistent.  In negotiating a new relationship with the EU we must ensure that we do not put unnecessary barriers in place that will inhibit collaborations.”

Dr Peter Cotgreave, Chief Executive, Microbiology Society, said:

“This result is concerning for UK science. The UK has received significant research funding from the EU and as the negotiations surrounding the UK’s exit begin, it is imperative that the British Government considers how this funding shortfall will be addressed. UK scientists will need reassurance that their funding will continue and information on how Brexit will affect the visa statuses of their EU colleagues.

“Science is a discipline built on collaboration. If the UK is to continue as a world leader in the field we must ensure that we retain the ability to attract the best scientists, regardless where they are from, and minimise any red-tape that prevents them collaborating with others.”

Prof. Simon Wessely, FMedSci, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Chair of Psychological Medicine and Vice Dean, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, and SMC Board of Trustees Member, said:

“There is no way I can pretend to be anything other than dispirited and disappointed. Whilst I don’t believe that people voted to leave the EU with science and health foremost in their minds, I fear that the consequences for both will be serious over the coming year unless we take firm and decisive action now.  I hope that ways will be found to reassure all those non UK EU citizens who work in science or the NHS that their futures are secure here, and that we will make sure that whatever happens the UK remains an attractive place for others to come and help take medical science and the NHS forward”

Prof Sir Robert Lechler, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences said:

“This is a very disappointing outcome for medical science. Now that the direction has been set to leave the EU, it is crucial that the government develops clear plans to safeguard the future of science and research in the UK.

“We must ensure the UK retains its globally competitive edge in a post-Brexit world by finding ways to sustain the strong research collaborations we have built with our European partners.  The scientific community needs to send a strong message that we are still open for business.

“As part of this, research will need access to funding sources to replace those put at risk by exiting the EU, as well as clear plans to maintain access to European research talent and mechanisms for scientific collaboration.

“The Academy of Medical Sciences is ready to work with Ministers and officials to shape suitable and sustainable plans for the future of UK medical science.”

Prof Dame Anne Glover, Vice-Principal External Affairs & Dean for Europe, University of Aberdeen, said:

“I am personally heartbroken and I have great concern for the future of British science, engineering and technology.  Our success in research and resulting impact relies heavily on our ability to be a full part of European Union science arrangements and it is hard to see how they can be maintained upon a Brexit.  I feel particularly badly for the 18-24 year olds who voted overwhelmingly to remain, perhaps because their knowledge of the EU was rather deeper from their recent education than for the older population.”

Prof Sir Paul Nurse, Director of The Francis Crick Institute, and former President of the Royal Society, said:

“This is a poor outcome for British science and so is bad for Britain.  Science thrives on the permeability of ideas and people, and flourishes in environments that pool intelligence, minimise barriers and are open to free exchange and collaboration.  British scientists will have to work hard in the future to counter the isolationism of BREXIT if our science is to continue to thrive.”

Steve Bates, BIA Chief Executive and SMC Advisory Committee Member, said:

“This is not the outcome that the BIA wanted but we accept the views of the UK people. The life sciences sector is a resilient community, unfazed by new challenges and staffed by great management teams used to working in a global environment. The fundamentals of UK bioscience remain strong. In terms of potential new therapies in the pipeline, the UK is by far the strongest in Europe. But several key issues for our sector are now in flux.

“Key questions about the regulation of medicine, access to the single market and talent, intellectual property and the precise nature of the future relationship of the UK with Europe are now upon us. This will require detailed and dispassionate thinking and the BIA will make its and its members’ expertise available to the government and its key agencies in the coming weeks and months as we work through these complex issues.

“The BIA remains committed to making the UK the third global cluster for life sciences and we will work closely with government and relevant agencies to see how this ambition can be delivered in the new political context we now find ourselves in as a country.”

Lord Sharkey, Chair of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said:

“The UK health and medical research community partners and collaborates with the European Union and its Member States to advance our knowledge and understanding of health.  As the implications of the UK’s vote to leave the EU unfold, we urge Government to engage in a constructive dialogue with the medical research charities sector on the future of EU funding for research in the UK, and the regulations and policies that affect the medical research environment.

“Moving forward, we will want Government to ensure an efficient and smooth transition of EU funding and regulations for medical research in the UK to enable it to continue to flourish.”