The Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee is examining the implications and opportunities of leaving the EU for UK science and research. The Committee is holding hearings on this during July, and invites written submissions during that period.
Yesterday’s session saw Kevin Baughan (Chief Development Officer, Innovate UK), Professor Philip Nelson (Chair, Research Councils UK) and Jo Johnson MP (Minister of State for Universities and Science) questioned.
Kevin Baughan (Innovate UK) underlined that the business sector is an important recipient of Horizon 2020 funds and that companies have already expressed concerns about decreased opportunities for collaboration. He underlined the importance of confidence, both in the sustainability of contracts beyond two years and of those from other EU Members States in UK partners. The more information the UK Government can give as to what will happen, the more confidence there will be. There is a huge risk to the UK in a two-year pause in excellence and innovation.
Philip Nelson (RCUK) stated that the biggest risks of Brexit are around the mobility of people as the UK has to continue to be seen as a destination for expertise. The creation of UKRI and the changes in the HE Bill have been ongoing for some time and he stated that it will be crucial that UKRI has a strong voice in the Brexit negotiations. He also mentioned much anecdotal evidence of UK partners being removed from consortia and leading researchers deciding not to risk coming to the UK and is concerned by this; RCUK will continue to monitor UK participation in applications to Horizon 2020.
Jo Johnson reiterated his earlier message stating that the UK Government is fully committed to science and to ensuring that the UK remains a ‘science powerhouse’. The Government is currently undertaking planning and analysis across all areas, and science will be a big part of that. In terms of opportunities, the Government needs communication from the research community to help identify new flexibilities in the relationship with the EU and how they can be exploited. He told the Committee that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is working on a comprehensive Communications Strategy to ensure it is clear that Brexit doesn’t mean increased insularity, but rather that the UK is now even more open and globally-minded. He also said that it has been made clear, both by BIS and by Commissioner Moedas that there should be neither soft (in the construction of consortia) nor hard (in the assessment and awarding of grants) discrimination against UK participants. Statements of assurance from the Commission need to be regularly reiterated and he is working with Moedas on this. Mr Johnson is concerned to hear anecdotal reports that UK partners are being rejected as participants in and leaders of consortia and has set up a unit which is ready to receive evidence. An email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been set up to which people to submit examples of this kind of behaviour.