Director of Science & Communities at the Royal Society of Chemistry, Jo Reynolds explores the impact of the EU exit on UK research and innovation one year on from Article 50
Thursday 29th March 2018 marked a year since the UK commenced the formal process of leaving the EU and one year on, our work has developed further as negotiations have progressed.
We are partnering closely with others across the research and innovation community to advocate for outcomes that support the scientific community in our three priority areas of funding, mobility and regulation. As part of this, Sir John Holman continues his role on the High Level Stakeholder Working Group on EU Exit, Universities, Research and Innovation – an opportunity for leading figures in science to share their insights directly with government ministers.
We have now seen the approval of a draft withdrawal agreement and the publication of the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee’s report on Brexit, Science and Innovation. As part of our evidence to this inquiry, I attended a summit organised by the committee to ensure the messages across our three priority areas were heard.
We will continue to work with our community to understand their needs and update our asks as negotiations progress.
Funding and collaboration
We welcome the news that UK researchers will continue to be able to participate in Horizon 2020 projects for the duration of the programme and the government has provided guidance on this for UK researchers.
However, we agree with the Brexit, Science & Innovation report that urgent clarity is needed on how the UK is going to participate in Horizon 2020’s successor, Framework Programme 9 (FP9). Whilst the UK government has recently published a position paper on FP9, we have yet to see a clear indication of how they envision the UK’s involvement in the programme.
The EU is forging ahead with plans for FP9 and the UK government must articulate how and on what terms it wants to be part of this. This is essential for achieving the government’s vision of building an ‘ambitious agreement on science and innovation’ with the EU.
As a member of the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS), we have, alongside 21 chemical societies from across Europe, called for continued collaboration between the UK and the EU after the UK’s exit, including through continued UK participation in FP9.
We have been clear that the UK needs to develop a flexible future immigration system to stay at the forefront of the global research community. At the start of March, we were one of over 40 organisations calling on the government to display this kind of flexibility, when we signed a letter to the Prime Minister calling for PhD level job roles and roles on the Shortage Occupation List to be exempt from the Tier 2 visa cap.
The Brexit, Science and Innovation report has recognised mobility as a priority, stating: ‘It is imperative that the migration system for scientists, researchers and scientific technicians recognises the need for mobility.’
The chemicals sector supports many other industries. It provides vital and sometimes irreplaceable materials in supply chains that are essential to developing everything from new therapies in the life sciences to materials for energy applications and inventions in aerospace and robotics. How the UK regulates chemicals post-Brexit will affect the entire chemical sector but is likely to have the greatest impact on small to medium enterprises (SMEs).
Regulation is also likely to impact the implementation of the government’s Industrial Strategy, which was unveiled late last year. We welcome the proposal in the Industrial Strategy White Paper to convene a new ‘Ministerial Working Group on Future Regulation’ but in the near-term, businesses that translate scientific discoveries into products and services need to know what the UK’s future regulatory framework will look like, particularly during the proposed implementation period.
At the start of March the Prime Minister, Theresa May, indicated that the UK wishes to negotiate a long-term agreement with the EU to become an ‘associate member’ of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the agency that is currently responsible for setting the rules for regulation of chemicals in EU member states. This negotiation may or may not be successful. It remains uncertain which bodies in the UK would make regulatory decisions during the implementation phase and beyond and whether participation of UK scientists on ECHA committees and the required data sharing would be a part of future ‘associate membership’.
As with all science, sharing data and expertise is essential to the development of aligned regulation across the world. Strengthened international cooperation on the development of regulation and policy, as well as the science that underpins it, helps to enable global innovation and trade, whilst providing responsible and consistent safeguards for human health and the environment.
We anticipate that the year ahead will be challenging, but we will continue to work together across our community to ensure the voice of science is heard during the continued negotiations.
Director of Science & Communities
Royal Society of Chemistry
Tel: +44 (0)1223 420 066