It is Brexit day: what does this mean for Science?

It is finally here, a day of complete and utter national insanity. The US might indeed believe that they had earned the No.1 spot of “Greatest International Plonkers” by electing the climate-denying Trump to the hallowed office of “pussy-grabber-in-Chief”. Not to be outdone by that, up pops the UK with their “Hold my beer” moment as they proceed to deploy Brexit.

What exactly is happening?

To be wholly clear – today Friday the 31st January 2020 at 11pm (that’s midnight in Brussels), the UK will cease to be a member of the European Union. It is not crashing out with no agreement. This is a step, part of a negotiated withdrawal.

For further insights below are some links you might be interested in …

A transition period now commences. This transition runs until 31st December 2020. During this period things will remain more or less the same while negotiations between the UK and EU proceed. Up until 31st Dec 2020 the UK will remain in both the EU customs union and single market, and will continue to contribute funding to the EU. There is no longer any UK political representation within the EU.

The “Idea” now is that the EU and UK will work out how to interact and trade. The risk is of course that no international agreement has ever been worked out in such a short period, so several things might happen.

  • No agreement is reached and on 31st January 2020, the transition period ends. This then becomes the No-deal scenario. It would be catastrophic.
  • An agreement is reached, but that has never been done before in such a short period of time.
  • The transition period is extended. UK politics has been very good at kicking the can down the road. Unfortunately, this time it is part of the withdrawal agreement that unless there is an agreement to extend by 1st July then there will be no extension.

Right now the most probable outcome is no-deal.

To translate all of that into a scientific context, not only does trade need to be agreed, but there also needs to be agreement on how the UK will participate within EU research programmes.

Brexit Impact upon Science in the UK

An article published in Nature on 29th Jan spells it all out.

Until 2021, scientists will still be free to take up jobs and travel between the United Kingdom and other EU countries, just as before. British researchers will be able to apply for European research funding and take part in exchange schemes. The key difference will be the start of negotiations over the country’s future relationship with the EU — previously outlined only in a non-binding ‘political declaration’ — including participation in Horizon Europe, which is set to be worth €100 billion (US$110 billion).

So will the UK seek to be part of Horizon Europe?

The desire to do so has been expressed by the current UK government. How that plays out in reality will very much depend upon how the wider negotiations go.

To set your expectations correctly here, remember that Boris is not exactly the incarnation of competence or ability, nor is he renowned for honesty or integrity. The man has been fired from every previous job he ever had for lying.

What about funding for Horizon Europe?

To participate in Horizon Europe funding will be required. I’d honestly not hold your breath expecting the UK treasury to pay €10 billion for the seven years of membership.

How can it work without Freedom of Movement?

The reality of the EU is that if you want to participate in research programmes, then you have to accept freedom of movement. This is what non EU states such as Norway and Switzerland do, it is part of the price they pay to participate.

Will the UK permit freedom of movement? Clearly the political will for that is not something the current UK government would ever accept.

What happens to the literally tens of thousands of EU researchers who travel in and out of the United Kingdom. Even fast-track visas will be challenging.

Remember also that EU nationals from outside the United Kingdom currently make up 18% of the UK academic workforce. There will be an huge impact.

What about EU regulations?

The intent is that the UK will be free to have regulations that diverge from EU regulations. How can participation and collaboration be possible when that happens?

Forget freedom of movement of data. It will not even be possible for data to flow in from the EU unless there is agreement by the EU that this can happen.

Can we have a standalone agreement for Science without a Trade Agreement?

It might be possible if both sides agreed to this. Being realistic, it is also highly improbable.

What if the UK is not part of Horizon Europe?

Right now this is the most probable outcome. With no freedom of movement and no data sharing, it would be very difficult.

Isolation and a go-it-alone without international cooperation will lead to a greatly diminished scientific credibility.

#Brexit and Science – Summary

You might indeed consider me to be despondent about it all, but I believe I’m being realistic. I’ve not bought into the unicorn-enshrined fantasy that is brexit, and I don’t think you should either.

The best possible deal the UK had is the one that it is now walking away from.


Leave a Comment

Exit mobile version