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expert reactions to statement that a hard Brexit ‘could cripple UK science’

The Francis Crick Institute has warned that Brexit could do serious damage to UK science and research following the completion of a staff survey.


Steve Bates, CEO of the UK Bioindustry Association said:

“Not just UK Universities and Scientific Institutes rely on access to the best scientific brains, life sciences companies in the UK need them too.  To ensure that the UK remains a global leader in life sciences, and grows the economy by delivering the UK government’s life sciences industrial strategy and sector deal, UK life science companies need to attract and retain the best scientific talent, and engage with the ecosystem producing world leading research.”



Prof Dame Anne Glover FRS PRSE, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said:

“International collaboration and a sustained deep science partnership with the EU is vital in supporting scientific progress and social and economic well-being.  A no-deal or a hard Brexit puts this at risk and I reiterate the call I made earlier this year to the Prime Minister to take all necessary steps to secure an agreement on science and research in the Brexit negotiations which ensures the closest possible research relationship with the EU.  This includes providing for the UK’s full participation in the European Framework programmes for research and innovation, and ensuring that universities and research institutions can continue to recruit talented researchers and the staff that are needed to underpin the UK’s research base from a global pool.  The risks of not doing so are evident and particularly acute in Scotland as we attract the most funding per head of population across the UK nations from H2020.  Scotland also benefits from a highly multinational research community with a quarter of research-only staff from the EU.  We cannot afford to lose this wealth of talent from the UK and urgent action is needed to secure a deal that makes certain research in the UK continues to flourish post-Brexit.”



Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of The Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

“A ‘no deal’ Brexit poses a grave threat to UK medical research. This is becoming increasingly pressing to the people who make up our talented international research workforce.

“Almost 30% of UK academics in our universities are non-UK nationals, and 1 in 6 academic staff at UK universities are EU-27 nationals. Without a deal, the legal status of European researchers and their families is not protected and there is a growing risk that this highly skilled and mobile workforce will leave, resulting in a less agile and collaborative research network.

“A bad deal for science would seriously jeopardise our ability to attract and retain talent from across the globe. In our Academy’s Fellowship alone, the nationalities of the 48 most recently elected biomedical and health experts span four continents. These researchers make a vital contribution to the success of UK research and we must not allow our exit from the EU to dissuade researchers from seeing the UK as a desirable place to come, train and to make their careers.

“The threat of a disorderly exit is also keenly felt by our European collaborators, highlighted in a recent statement from the Federation of European Academies of Medicines on the Safeguarding of European Medical Research post Brexit. A bad deal for science will be an extremely poor outcome for the health of patients and citizens in the UK and Europe.”



Prof Sir Pete Downes, President of the Biochemical Society, said:

“With less than six months to go before the UK exits the European Union, it is disappointing to see that the concerns highlighted by scientists before and since the referendum result have not yet been allayed. The UK’s bioscience sector benefits the wider public, provides a significant economic contribution and remains an area of strength and competitive advantage. It is crucial that the Government recognises this value. The drug discovery sector in the UK is particularly strong, attracting and employing many molecular bioscientists from across the globe. In addition to continuing to support the growth of this important area of research, it is also essential that the concerns of those working in other life science sectors, such as plant science and biotechnology, are equally heard and addressed. We need a deal that not only replaces the science funding that will be lost through Brexit, but that also priorities freedom of movement for scientists. The ability of international researchers to work and study in the UK is crucial if we are to remain a global leader in science and innovation.”


Aisling Burnand MBE, Chief Executive of the AMRC (Association of Medical Research Charities), said:

“Collaboration and international partnership are the basis of great science and research. The Francis Crick Institute, is a magnet for both UK and international expertise and talent. Two of the leading UK medical research charities are founding partners in its work. The collaborative international approach trailblazes pioneering research with the potential to result in transformative outcomes for patients.

“We know it is win-win to have people flow both ways and learn. If a researcher goes off to a different country, they are learning from that person—perhaps the leading person—and then they can come back, set up a new team, spread their new knowledge and hopefully improve our knowledge in a particular area where it may have been lacking to date.

“In a no deal Brexit, the exchange of personnel in the research workforce between the UK and EU may be compromised with immediate effect. Without a deal, the legal status of these researchers and their families is not protected. In the absence of legal certainty, there is a growing risk that this highly skilled but highly mobile workforce will leave.”



Prof Peter Openshaw, President of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“Immunology, like other cutting-edge areas of biomedical science, is a global discipline and one in which the UK excels. We currently rank first amongst the G7 nations for our research in immunity and infectious disease and are now starting to reap the benefits of our efforts, with new treatments for previously incurable diseases emerging after decades of investment and collaboration in immunological research.

“A really important factor in the UK’s success has been our ability to attract the brightest and best minds from around the world to UK labs. These gifted colleagues make a huge contribution to the vitally important research carried out in this country, which positively impacts millions of lives. In turn, UK scientists have benefitted from opportunities to train and work in the best labs overseas. International collaborations are at the heart of modern scientific endeavour and we must do all we can to ensure that UK scientists can continue to participate in global teams, many of which have taken years to build, and contribute to vitally important research that has the potential to contribute so much to prosperity, health and wellbeing.

“The findings from the Crick’s survey echo what British Society for Immunology members have been telling us – namely that a hard Brexit will cripple UK research, leaving the UK much poorer and resulting in a loss of talent that will be impossible to replace. Along with the Crick, the British Society for Immunology calls on the UK Government and the EU to prioritise science in the Brexit negotiations to ensure that scientists from across Europe are able to continue to work closely together on life-saving research, collaborations which have taken decades to build up. Working together to solve big problems has been one of the wonderful aspects of being within the EU science funding schemes, but our leadership of collaborative grants in Europe is now being called into question. If the UK becomes isolated and its scientific capacity diminished, we all lose.”



Prof John Hardy, Professor of Neuroscience, University College London, said:

“Medical research is one of the few remaining areas where Britain punches above its weight in the world.  This is a vital area for humanity and it is also a vital area British pharma and biotechnology industries.  Why does Britain do so well in medical research?  The major reason is that it offers opportunities to all, regardless of background. In Alzheimer’s research, noted by this government as an area of priority, 3 British based researchers, including myself, shared the Brain Prize with a German colleague.  The three British based researchers were myself (I have a European partner), Bart De Strooper, a Belgian, now head of the UK Dementia Researcher Institute, and Michel Goedert, a Luxembourger, based in Cambridge with his Italian scientist wife…..   This is the reality of UK medical research.  It is great, because it is diverse. Brexit is already damaging this research.  Bright foreign postdocs prefer more welcoming environments and the whole community feels uncertain. A few mess-ups, like refusing Amsterdam students visa requests to come to a meeting, will be extraordinarily destructive to UK science. Speaking for myself, I returned to London in 2007 from the US: if I were making this choice today, I would have chosen Germany or France.”



 Prof Bart De Strooper and Dr Adrian Ivinson, directors of the UK-DRI, said:

“The UK-Dementia Research Institute supports the Crick institute in its call to keep the links with Europe intact. Our aim is to bring a solution for Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. This is by definition an international and long-term aim, we cannot tackle this problem in isolation. The UK has been a leader in the European science landscape. The current uncertainty around Brexit is already endangering this position. The prospect of a hard Brexit would dramatically affect the ability of the UK to attract and retain the brightest minds, seriously undermining the UK’s world leading role in scientific research and innovation.”



Dr Beth Thompson, Wellcome’s Head of UK & EU Policy, said:

“A no-deal Brexit would be damaging to patients and 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.

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.

Collaboration and international mobility make science stronger. Keeping the UK open to international talent is critical to Britain’s scientific success now and in the future.”


Declared interests

The nature of this story means everyone quoted above could be perceived to have a stake in it.  So we did not ask for interests to be declared, as they are implicit in the affiliations.

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