UK's status as science superpower at risk after Brexit, say MPs



Britain cannot take for granted that it will retain its world-leading position in science and innovation after Brexit, a committee of MPs has warned.

The House of Commons science and technology select committee is concerned that the UK has not yet committed itself to the next round of EU funding which will start accepting bids for research finance in the next few weeks.

“It is crucial that the government acts swiftly. If it fails to do so both sides could suffer considerably as a result,” said Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, chairman of the committee.

MPs say a deal needs to be in place for continued participation in the EU funding programme by October at the latest.

The UK has the option of paying into the EU’s science research funding as an associate member like other non-EU members including Switzerland and Norway, but the committee said it was concerned that the government had “openly avoided” committing to the EU’s next round of funding for science research, Framework Programme 9.

It is the successor to Horizon 2020, the EU’s seven-year flagship research programme which has spent around €80bn (£70bn) since 2013.

MPs noted a number of ministers had made speeches reaffirming the importance of science to the country, but there had been no follow up through action.

“With just one year remaining until Brexit, and a commonly-accepted aim of reaching a comprehensive Brexit deal by this autumn, the time for setting out broad aspirations has passed,” said the cross-party committee. More clarity was urgently needed to avoid “unfortunate” results.

“It cannot be taken for granted that the UK will retain its status as a science superpower,” said the report.

MPs also want clarity on immigration policies post-Brexit in order to continue attracting talent to British universities and businesses at the heart of research.

“Researchers and businesses need to know what the UK’s intentions are,” MPs concluded in their report, Brexit, Science and Innovation.

The uncertainty over Brexit is already hitting research. Last year medical researchers told how they had been “bumped off grant applications” for EU grants by European colleagues unsure that they could depend on British collaboration post-Brexit.