What “Brexit” would mean for British science

Editor’s Note: Amy made this excellent speech in the EU debate at Welsh Conference in February. We thought this would be a good moment to share it with you.

Science is at a seriously exciting time at the moment, helping crack growing problems such as global warming and cancer. British science not only needs funding from the European Research Council, but it also requires international cooperation in order to meet its potential, allowing new technology to be developed at the quickest rate possible. The great thing about science is that it doesn’t have international borders; the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva literally spans across two countries!

However, being left out of the EU will mean that it will be harder for us to collaborate as our freedom of movement will be more restricted. Without the EU, there’s no way we’d be able to recruit the best scientists as easily as we can currently, and it would become considerably more difficult to compete and cooperate with the EU as an isolated country.

Reducing Britain’s impact on international projects would be catastrophic, because it would be absurd to suggest that the British are mediocre when it comes to scientific innovation. We thrive upon innovation! We also attract the best scientists and students in the EU to come and work in the UK and contribute to the economy, and vice versa.

I can’t help but think that leaving the European Union will affect projects right under my own nose. My own biosciences department at Swansea University is currently undergoing a £12.3 million research project, funded by the EU, to develop algal bioenergy. However, they aren’t carrying out this project alone. They have partners in Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands… the list goes on. That’s just one project. Research needs international cooperation as much as algae need water and carbon dioxide.

If we leave the European Union, the 16% of grants that the EU gives British scientists will be heavily reduced. We would be pushed down the list from top priority to very near the bottom. That means it’ll take us longer to develop new, vital technology, despite our vast knowledge. But why should the EU make us top priority if we’re not a part of it in the first place?

There are plentiful arguments, that we can use the £9 billion saved from the EU budget to invest in the NHS and science. However, at the moment, Britain receives more science grants than any other EU member state- even more than Germany does- and there’s a huge risk of losing that if we leave the European Union. Britain stands out from the scientific crowd, but there’s absolutely no way we can continue excelling in science if we leave, as we won’t have sufficient funds.

Friends, Welsh Liberal Democrats, we must back this motion, otherwise Wales runs the risk of losing crucial STEM funding for its top, world-leading research universities. That would be a complete disaster for Welsh science, British science, and European science. We must vote to remain in the European Union. Thank you.


* Amy Gaskin is a student at Swansea University who is firmly pro EU

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Excellent article!

  • Excellent article Amy – this is one of the major reasons I’m in favour of staying in.

    Being in the EU means unparalleled opportunities. It’s a genuine force for good.
    It facilitates easy collaboration on small lab-to-lab scales, and on large national agency-to-national agency scales.

    As it stands, science in Europe has few borders, and thus we have fewer limits on our ability to understand the world, cure diseases, innovate and invent new technologies.

  • Peter Watson 13th May '16 - 3:19pm

    I am more likely to vote Remain than Exit so am sympathetic towards the case being made here, but this article does not convince me and I do have a few queries about it.

    I agree with the statement that “the great thing about science is that it doesn’t have international borders”, but the article then seems to be arguing that science should have an international border put around it that only encompasses the EU!

    Obviously Geneva is in Switzerland which is not in the EU, so the Large Hadron Collider at CERN seems an unlikely example to choose. Would being outside the EU affect the ability of the UK to participate in CERN (or the European Space Agency)?

    The best scientists in the world are not just in the European Union. Do we currently have difficulties recruiting or carrying out joint research with scientists in India, USA, China, etc. If so, then might that become easier outside the EU, and if not, then why would leaving the EU make it harder to do so with European scientists? Does membership of the EU mean we miss out on research opportunities and expertise elsewhere?

    In terms of funding, I don’t understand why it is assumed that British scientists would have to receive less if it were direct from the UK government rather than via the EU. You state that we receive more science funding than other countries, but is that more than we put in?

    Ultimately, I don’t think the article puts forward quite enough evidence to support its hypothesis. Ironic really! 😉

  • “My own biosciences department at Swansea University is currently undergoing a £12.3 million research project, funded by the EU”
    I’m afraid it isn’t. EU Funding, is a misnomer. Than money is in fact, British taxpayers money handed first to the EU, skimmed by Brussels, and then about half of it handed back with strict caveats on how it is to be spent in the UK.
    Try this much simpler scam. You give me a £20 note. I give you back a £10 note in an envelope marked ~ J Dunn Funding, and…I even tell you how you must spend that £10. Obvious scam?, yes,.. and it’s the very same *EU Funding* scam,.. but with about 19 billion written behind the £ sign. What you need to ask yourself is, how much more UK taxpayers money,.. might.. have been spent on Swansea Uni,.. if it hadn’t been pre-skimmed, by Brussels ?.
    “However, being left out of the EU will mean that it will be harder for us to collaborate [on the Large Hadron Collider], as our freedom of movement will be more restricted”
    The Large Hadron Collider, is a collaboration of some 100 or so countries. Most of those countries are not even in the EU, but it doesn’t seem to worry or restrict them? Collaborative science occurs (and will continue), because the mutual benefits of shared costs and new technological developments, make the enterprise worth it,.. economically. None of those countries give a second thought to whether they have, or do not have, EU club membership, because it’s not an issue.
    “We thrive upon innovation! We also attract the best scientists and students in the EU to come and work in the UK and contribute to the economy, and vice versa.”
    And that will continue,.. irrespective of a Remain or Leave outcome.

  • Well given the article is largely about scientific research, there is a nature Part II to this, namely scientific and technological development and commercialisation and how this will impact the availability of jobs for our STEM graduates.

    Personally, I see no real reason why companies such as Google would wish to continue doing R&D on autonomous vehicles (aka driverless cars) in a UK that wasn’t part of the EU, as the UK operation will be just another non-EU business subject to EU import restrictions. However, relocate that lab to Ireland, Holland, Germany etc. and now it will be within the EU…

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th May '16 - 8:26pm

    @ Peter Watson,
    The ‘ Scientists for Britain site has an article – ‘ Matt Ridley: the scientific case for Brexit’.

    This article on the internet gives a link for the recently published report from the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, and also Lord Ridley’s argument for Brexit.

    It may provide some of the information that you are seeking.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th May '16 - 8:58pm

    @ Peter Watson,
    I forgot to mention that an article on the Scientists for Britain site – ‘ Our response to the Lords EU/UK Science Report. ‘

    I think that the article helps to give a counterbalance to the arguments in favour of remaining, and it might might stimulate further debate and discussion.

  • It is a few years since I was actively involved in science, but I can confirm that it is very much an international profession. In Agricultural Research (which serves Farming – an industry based on managing micro habitats!) we worked with scientists from most countries in every continent. The experience of scientists in all these far flung countries was brought to bare on the unique problems faced by farmers in this country as well as all the others.
    However, I should point out that many EU grants support this kind of international cooperation, and some projects could only be possible with the sort of funding provided by the EU.
    Climate change threatens to destroy the soil ecology on farms all over the world, for example our own fields were waterlogged for over 3months since October, and the beneficial soil organisms are all nearly all aerobic, crop growth here has been delayed for maybe 6 weeks this spring as a result.
    Collecting weather data sufficient for the global climate models that help protect world food production is an extremely expensive operation requiring international cooperation and budgets on a continental scale. UK funding for much of the essential biological survey work that supports this sort of research is only sufficient to organise volunteers . Instead of increasing funding to meet the climate crisis, since 1980 UK Governments with very rare exceptions, freeze or cut funding on agricultural or ecological research, putting us all at risk of starvation.
    We must stay IN Europe for the sake of our children and grandchildren (and for ourselves if we are younger that 30 years old!)

  • Jayne Mansfield 14th May '16 - 10:55am

    @ Amy,
    I have given Peter Watson, the internet source where he can find scientists who argue for Brexit.

    Nature magazine have the recent of a poll of scientists in which the overwhelming number of scientific researchers say they want to stay in the EU. Volume 531. Issue 7596,

    ‘ Scientists say ‘No’ to exit to UK exit from Europe in Nature Poll.’

    I would tend to give more weight to something that appeared in Nature magazine than a site such as Scientist for Britain and their website ‘scientists4britain’.

    I am pleased that the discussion on EU membership has moved away from the economic and immigration arguments.

  • Jayne Mansfield 14th May '16 - 11:35am

    @ Amy,
    Sorry the above is a bit jumbled, my eyes are playing up, not to mention my brain, so I ought not to be left in charge of a computer! I hope my post made some sort of sense .

  • What Remain will mean for publicly funded science

    The European Union’s Competitiveness Council has unanimously agreed a proposal to make all scientific papers arising from publicly funded research be made “Open Access” (OA) by 2020. Additionally, barring IPR, security and privacy reasons, the research data must also be freely available.

    This is a direct result of the current Dutch presidency putting research high on it’s agenda.

    1. News article: http://www.sciencealert.com/europe-announces-that-all-scientific-articles-should-be-freely-accessible-by-2020
    2. EU press release: http://english.eu2016.nl/documents/press-releases/2016/05/27/all-european-scientific-articles-to-be-freely-accessible-by-2020
    3. League of European Research Universities (LERU) press release welcoming the proposals: http://www.leru.org/files/general/2016_05_27_The_Dutch_EU_Presidency_rises_to_the_occasion_LERU%20PRESS%20RELEASE.pdf – note five of the twenty-one member universities are UK universities.

    Whilst it is difficult to determine the exact impact on UK-based scientific research, what is certain it will facilitate wider access to the results of research funded and part-funded by the public.

    I think this is another example of how working together we can accelerate change.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Geoffrey Payne
    (continued from previous message)...
  • Geoffrey Payne
    No one likes to talk about it, not even the Liberal Democrats, but we have a public sector funding crises. Our most successful campaigns; sorting out the sewage...
  • Geoffrey Payne
    We have to always be prepared for the unexpected. It is good politics therefore to claim that there may be an early General Election. However the usual rule a...
  • Tim Rogers
    As well as Ukraine and Gaza it is possible that Burma is about to implode. All the coups in West Africa remain unresolved. Venezuela might have a go at Guyana. ...
  • Tim Rogers
    I know that nobody will like it but we are already in a second cold war. The Moscow Beijing axis will grow,especially in Middle East and Africa. The Americans w...