Brexit causes UK to lose £3.5bn in science and research

Currently, the UK ranks 3rd in the world for the scientific research behind the USA and China. For the period 2007/13, the UK received €8.8 billion out of a total of €107 billion expenditure on research, development and innovation. In the same period over 3,000 UK-based researchers received funding to work overseas (mainly in Germany and Italy).

EU’s flagship research and innovation programme are Horizon 2020. Since 2014 we have received about €3.6 billion in new grants, and over 10 per cent of research income for top UK’s university comes from the EU. By leaving the collaborative research community in the EU, the UK may well be isolated, and because of the international standing of UK in scientific research, it will also affect Europe’s overall standing in the world. In the UK, there is concern that if we no longer part of Horizon 2020 and implement a strict immigration regime, the UK will find it harder to attract the best scientists from around the world. University College London stated that 30% of the applicants for their research fellowship were from EU countries and this year there have been no applications.

Research Councils UK highlights that we benefit significantly from the investment and growth resulting from the EU scientific grant. The grant has already leveraged an additional £229 millions of funding from other partners. The government has so far stated that they will continue to fund scientific research to 2020, but there is no firm funding plan after that.

At the moment, there is no clear way forward regarding scientific funding. The EU rejected the UK’s bid to become an associate member of regulatory bodies including the European Medicines Agency after Brexit. There is a procedure for funding non-EU members, but we would have no power in negotiating the allocation of funds. Non-EU members can, however, receive some funding, if other EU members agree. Alternatively, the UK could pay a lump sum for participation in EU-funded programmes for example, for the period between 2014 to 2020, Norway’s average annual commitment will be €447 million for participation in 12 EU programmes. Which one will we choose and how many scientists will our universities lose after Brexit? This is the $64,000 question; I suspect whatever the answer is, the adverse impact is likely to be of significance.

Commenting on news that the UK will have reduced access to the EU Horizon 2020 scheme post-Brexit, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

“The Tories are delusional if they believe that the UK will automatically continue to participate on the same terms in EU affiliated programmes, such as Horizon 2020, following Brexit. When will Theresa May learn that we cannot have our cake and eat it?

“This is nothing short of a disaster. The UK had been allocated 15% of all agreed funds under Horizon 2020, worth about €4bn (£3.5bn). This funding was vital for innovation and research on some of the biggest issues of our time, including healthcare and climate change.

“It is becoming clearer by the day that the Brexit deal will not be what the Leave campaign promised. That’s why Liberal Democrats are fighting for the people to have the final say on the deal and the opportunity to Exit from Brexit.”

* Tahir Maher is a member of the LDV editorial team and the Chair of the English Party

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2 Comments

  • Peter Watson 6th Jun '18 - 3:02pm

    I think this is a very good and important article. There are potentially lots of problems here, and I particularly welcome the pragmatic comments in Tahir’s final paragraph (in contrast to Tom Brake’s depressingly typical alarmist statements). I should emphasise that I voted to remain in the EU and would prefer the UK to do just that, but I have always been concerned that the Remain campaign made (and continues to make) a very poor case for it and these comments are more in the spirit of playing devil’s advocate …

    An obvious rebuff to the headline of the article would be that the money invested by the EU in research comes from its members, including the UK. Without indicating the difference between what the UK pays into the fund for research and what it receives, the £3.5 bn figure may as well be written on the side of a bus! 😉 Also, the figures quoted indicate that nearly 90% of research income for top UK universities does not come from the EU, so that suggests a lot that is not affected by Brexit (directly, anyway), leaving a gap that the UK could decide for itself how to fill.

    A Brexiter might also suggest that if the UK is ranked 3rd in the world behind the USA and China, then the EU needs our involvement more than we need it – Brexiters like that sort of argument! And whilst it would be true that “if we … implement a strict immigration regime, the UK will find it harder to attract the best scientists from around the world”, Brexiters would claim that this is a red herring and that they could and would open the doors to the best scientists from the EU and elsewhere in the world.

    Potentially, (depending upon the source,context, details, etc,) the information about UCL could be important evidence of the negative impact of Brexit, but even that might be more a symptom of the transition than the outcome.

  • Behind this and other funding issues is an unspoken elephant – Westminster!

    One of the benefits of the ‘Brussels’ bureaucrats has been to largely remove the (Westminster) politicians from investment and funding decisions.

    I remember all the (Westminster) politics that surrounded science and technology R&D funding in the 70’s and 80’s, wringing their hands in indecision whilst the UK suffered a “brain drain” as bright people voted with their feet and followed the money; Brexit will return us to this time: why spend £Bn’s on R&D that might deliver something in the future when the NHS is crying out for more money now…

    In more recent years we’ve seen further evidence of Westminster’s inability to make funding and investment decisions: nuclear, alternative energy, railways, broadband…

    So I think the loss of both a stable long-term funding stream for scientific research and pan-European research co-operation/non-competition will cost the UK dearly.

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