Brexit’s influence on Science by Tevy Kuch

The consequences of June 23rd’s Brexit campaign, although still unclear, will likely become a setback in the British scientific community, despite claims that it is safeguarding British interest.

As of recently, scientific progressions have seen a plateau in the UK. This concern arises not from the lack of research but suffers from the transition from theory to real world application. For example, Clatterbridge Cancer Center in Lancashire developed the proton beam therapy in 1989, yet it was only launched in the UK 30 years afterward alongside the existence of 60 facilities worldwide. With the lack of financial grounding due to Brexit, this will strain future scientific endeavors.

The UK is currently part of the Horizon 2020 scheme, however, once it expires in 2021 after Britain’s withdrawal, funds will strain. The UK has demonstrated a willingness to pay for participation in the future but can only exert informal influence if associated. Nevertheless, these existing schemes can only provide a short-term solution that is microscopic in comparison to the support today.

Association with Horizon 2020 requires countries to conform to guidelines. Countries should be a member of the European Free Trade Area or the European Neighbourhood Policy or show the willingness to be apart of the EU. Brexit’s campaign would outline uncertainty for future membership.

This concern has been vaguely reassured by politicians- Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Priti Patel that there is “more than enough money” to support institutions currently being funded by the EU as well as ensuring that there is money to be “spent on [their] priorities”.

Implications of Migration Policies

Researchers who spearhead science soon will face inhibitions in settling in the UK. This raises concerns about hindering diversity in expertise and experience as well as reducing competitive and critical approaches to knowledge. Although it isn’t certain how foreigners will be affected, Post-Brexit’s Leave campaign against immigration is a stark yet telling indicator of the future of science

UK’s science sector owes much from the abundance of European Union resources and collaboration. The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator,  was an international collaboration that demand further adjustments and cooperation in the next 15 years, that come with a hefty price-tag.

A survey conducted by New Scientists found that two-thirds of managers believe that Brexit will hinder potential talent from the EU and employment of current staff. Jennifer Rohn, cell biologist at University College London, said

“Even if people are allowed to stay, they quite rightly feel a sense of uneasiness at the idea they are not wanted and don’t want to be in a place that’s closing its doors to the rest of the world.”

The majority of the scientific community’s attitudes towards the referendum has been unfavorable. 78% acknowledged how harmful departure would result in, whilst on 9% believed the UK would benefit. This concern is underscored by the result of the Nature’s poll of 907 where 83% voted to remain.

The Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee responded by launching an immediate risk analysis report on the impacts of Brexit, as part of damage control. The Chair, Nicola Blackwood MP, stated:

“ If we left, our life sciences sector would still have to follow EU regulations to sell in the single market. But Britain wouldn’t get a say in setting those rules, putting us at a competitive disadvantage.”

“The Swiss experience, in particular, should be a cautionary tale. When the Swiss voted to curtail free movement of people, the EU revoked access science funding and collaboration, undermining the country’s science sector” Blackwood, MP, added.

‘The overwhelming balance of opinion made known to this Committee from the UK science community valued greatly the UK’s membership of the European Union. Science is a major component of the UK’s membership of the EU. The ease with which talented researchers can move between EU Member States and the UK, the EU’s fertile environment for research collaboration, harmonised regulations, access to EU research facilities and the availability of substantial funding for research, combine to make EU membership a highly prized feature of the research ecosystem in the UK. Furthermore, the UK plays a leading role in the development of EU policies and decision-making processes that relate to science and research’.

However, efforts are being undermined by shocking images in favour of Leave, depicting immigrants overrunning islands over scientific investigation. The idea has already seen effects as foreign researchers feel uncomfortable with the market, threatening not just the UK science community but future collaborations.

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