The UK will be an innovation nation regardless of how we leave the EU

The government’s commitments to fund research and fast-track visas for scientists show that we are securing the country’s future outside the EU, says Jo Johnson

August 9, 2019
Researcher working with DNA
Source: iStock

It’s a privilege to be back in government again, responsible for universities and science, at this important moment in our national history.

While it remains our ambition to secure a deal with the European Union, we also need to be ready to leave without one. Leaving the EU should not be viewed merely as the end of the process, but as the beginning of a bright future.

British researchers, scientists and innovators need to be able to collaborate with international peers around the world if we are going to find solutions to global challenges. Tackling climate change, finding cures and treatments for cancer and dementia, making the most of artificial intelligence to boost global productivity, exploring space to influence how we live on earth – these undertakings will require the biggest thinkers and the best minds from around the world.

We welcome international experts and partners to join us in tackling these scientific challenges.

This will not change after 31 October.

In fact, this week we have announced that we are going to streamline the process for researchers and innovators looking to study and pursue their careers in the UK. We will create a fast-track visa route to attract the world’s finest minds. This includes removing the cap on Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visas, accelerating the path to settlement and making sure families of researchers can find employment in the UK so researchers can settle and pursue their big ideas here. People coming under the new offer will not have to meet a minimum salary threshold.

Leaving the EU does not mean shutting the door on research collaboration. It does not change the influence our world-renowned institutions have on global science.

Just last week we announced that we would be investing £60 million through UK Research and Innovation for researchers to work with nine other countries. Partners from the USA to Japan, China to Israel, will match fund research initiatives ranging from investigating the spread of infectious diseases to examining subpolar ocean currents and the impact on world climate.

Closer to home I know our continued relationship with Europe is critical for research and innovation in the UK.

Our capability, talent and universities have earned global respect and admiration thanks to the Nobel prizewinners and the life-changing inventions we have produced.

Some of those inventions could not have been discovered without our researchers taking calculated risks. Measured, verifiable decisions can lead to inventions like penicillin, the discovery of DNA and the World Wide Web.

Some risk-taking projects that have had a lasting impact on the way we all live our lives have been made possible through European funding programmes.

Now I am reassuring the research community that we will provide additional funding for scientists and researchers who have applied for EU funding before we leave. This commitment will protect UK bids to European Research Council, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and SME instrument programmes if the European Commission stops evaluating them in a no-deal Brexit.

UK Research and Innovation will assess bids to the programmes if they are not evaluated by the EU. Successful applications will have grants funded for the lifetime of their grant proposals. This will ensure no one is disadvantaged and world-changing ideas with infinite potential do not go to waste.

The UK will remain eligible to participate in other Horizon 2020 schemes as a third country and successful bids will be funded by the government’s existing guarantee and extension.

It has been said before: we are leaving the EU, not Europe. We will work with energy and vigour to get a better deal with our European counterparts. But the commitments we have made to science and research this week are an exemplar of the fact that we are also securing the UK’s future in no-deal.

The United Kingdom will remain an outstanding place to take a brilliant idea, explore it, test it, and then bring it to life and change the lives of people around the world.

Jo Johnson is the UK’s Science and Universities Minister.

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