Science and Technology Committee – Leaving the EU report

The House of Commons Science and Technology committee’s report into leaving the EU has been published.

To quote the main points from the summary:

  • “The Government has provided some helpful and welcome short-term reassurances in relation to underwriting EU funding for research and maintaining access to student loans, but the Government’s strategy for communicating these recent announcements is insufficient.”
  • “we are not convinced that the needs of science and research are at the heart of the Department for Exiting the European Union’s (DExEU) thinking and planning for Brexit. Science should have a strong voice as part of the negotiations. DExEU needs a Chief Scientific Adviser urgently. The Government should also involve the interim Chair of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)”
  • “the Government should now act to reduce uncertainty by setting out a vision for science. This should include commitments to raise science expenditure as a percentage of GDP (as we have previously urged).  It should also include measures to attract skilled researchers and students, to be taken forward in Brexit negotiations separately from immigration controls more broadly, and should include an immediate commitment to exempt EU researchers already working here from any wider potential immigration controls.”
  • “The Government must also seek to capitalise on the opportunities of Brexit, including in terms of setting regulations to facilitate accessing markets and research collaborations beyond the EU.”

On the EU funding guarantee, the report concludes that this is helpful to provide reassurance but that it doesn’t go very far, because it would be strange if the EU were not required to honour its contractual commitments under awards made before the UK leaves the EU and so it is unlikely that there will ever be a call under the guarantee.  However, given that there was widespread concern – whether justified or not – in the summer, the guarantee has been given in order to encourage people to keep bidding and to provide reassurance of the government’s commitment to mitigating these potential direct negative effects of Brexit.  However, if this is its main purpose, the report notes that it hasn’t really been communicated very well – hence the high level point noted in the report’s summary.

What matters to science and research?  The report highlights 5 main issues:

  • Funding – e.g. on-going participation in H2020 after Brexit or a UK replacement for it
  • People – guarantees for those already here and attracting EU researchers after Brexit, and Erasmus
  • Collaboration – being able to participate in international projects and influence the EU research agenda
  • Regulation – influencing EU regulation which might otherwise stifle innovation
  • Facilities – access for UK researchers to EU facilities

Note on people that the Education Committee are running a separate inquiry into the impact of Brexit on staff and students, and we have just submitted evidence – read it here.  The report notes that it is not clear whether Brexit will mean that EU staff become subject to the same controls as international staff – and of course there is about to be a new consultation on what the controls for international employees are going to be.

The report calls for a specific guarantee for staff already in post.  Note that Jo Johnson made helpful noises about this in the House of Commons this week – he “expects” that this assurance will be given but it depends on reciprocity (so it will come later in the negotitations?).