Hard Brexit ‘could cripple UK science’, warns Crick Institute

Survey of scientists at Francis Crick Institute finds that only 10 per cent are confident about the future of UK science

October 22, 2018
Brexit march
Source: iStock

Europe’s largest biomedical research institute has warned that a hard or “no deal” Brexit “could cripple UK science”, after an overwhelming majority of its scientists said that such an outcome would have a very negative impact on the sector.

A survey of more than 1,000 academics at the Francis Crick Institute found that 97 per cent thought that a hard or no-deal Brexit would be bad for UK science, with 76 per cent claiming that it would have a “very negative” impact. Meanwhile, 82 per cent said that they thought that such an outcome would be negative or very negative for science across the European Union and 70 per cent said that it would be bad for international science more widely.

Just 10 per cent of scientists said that they were confident about the future of UK science and only 4 per cent thought that the UK government was committed to getting a good deal for science. A meagre 3 per cent said that they thought the scientific community was being listened to and represented in Brexit discussions.

The majority of Crick scientists (51 per cent) said that they were less likely to look within the UK for their next role, with a quarter (25 per cent) stating that they were “much less likely” to remain in the country.

Just 7 per cent said that they were confident that the UK would continue to attract top scientific talent, while 4 per cent said that they were confident when it came to science funding. Only 12 per cent of scientists said that they were confident that they would be able to collaborate with EU institutions or companies after Brexit.

Meanwhile, 29 Nobel Prize-winning scientists from across Europe have written to UK prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to advocate a Brexit deal that allows the “closest possible cooperation between the UK and the EU” to preserve scientific research. The letter was led by Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society.

Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Crick and one of the letter’s signatories, said that the survey results reveal “the depth of feeling amongst scientists that a hard Brexit will seriously damage UK research and that the government is not paying enough attention to science in the Brexit negotiations”.

“Science and research matter for the UK’s economic growth, for the nation’s health and quality of life, and for the environment. The overwhelming negativity of scientists towards a hard Brexit should be a wake-up call to the country and the government,” he said.

“A hard Brexit could cripple UK science and the government needs to sit up and listen. We need a deal that replaces the science funding lost because of Brexit, that preserves freedom of movement for talented scientists and that makes them feel welcome in this country.”

Beth Thompson, head of UK and EU policy at the Wellcome Trust, said that a no-deal Brexit would damage scientific collaborations across Europe and “jeopardise the UK’s relationship with its most important research partner”.

“UK researchers publish more papers with EU collaborators than anywhere else,” she said. “Once there’s a deal, the UK and EU must come to a mutually beneficial agreement on science as quickly as possible to reduce uncertainty for researchers.

“This includes ensuring that skilled scientists, technicians and their families can continue to live and work across Europe, protecting funding and cooperating on regulations that support cross-border research.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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