Top scientists warn of Brexit damage to European research

Some of the world's leading scientists have warned both Britain and the EU that a no-deal Brexit would irreparably damage "the flow of people and ideas across borders" that scientific research relies on.

Photo of the Francis Crick Institute in London

Francis Crick Institute - Midland Road, London, photo copyright Elliott Brown

In an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, 29 Nobel laureates and six recipients of the Fields Medal for mathematics say that science needs to bring together Europe's most talented researchers to tackle issues such as disease, global warming and food shortages.But a hard Brexit, says the letter, risks "creating new barriers" to collaboration across Europe, inhibiting progress "to the detriment of us all". It urges both sides to ensure Brexit does "as little harm as research".

Francis Crick Institute: A "hard Brexit could cripple science"

The letter comes as a survey among the 1,000 staff at the Francis Crick Institute in London - the largest single biomedical research centre in Europe - found that more than three-quarters of EU scientists working at the organisation were 'less likely' to stay in the UK because of Brexit. EU scientists comprise 40 per cent of Crick's staff.In fact, 51 per cent of all scientists at the institute, including Britons, indicated they were now considering relocating abroad, and almost a half of laboratory heads also reported Brexit was already affecting their work, either because of problems in recruiting new scientists or being excluded from EU programmes.Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Crick and one of the Nobel winners who signed the Brexit warning letter, said, "This survey reveals the depth of feeling amongst scientists that a hard Brexit will seriously damage research, and that the UK government is not paying enough attention to science in the Brexit negotiations."Science and research matter for economic growth, health and quality of life, and the environment. The overwhelming negativity of scientists towards a hard Brexit should be a wake-up call."A hard Brexit could cripple science and the UK 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."
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UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah could not give assurances about how EU scientists would be allowed to work in the UK post-Brexit

Science Minister Sam Gyimah told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We all recognise that a chaotic Brexit would be a significant setback for science. That is why we have got a plan to ensure that, deal or no deal, there will be no cliff-edge for UK science."Unprecedented amounts of investment are going into UK science - another £7 billion in the next five years, that is more than we have ever invested in research and development in this country."We are rolling out big research programmes, a £1 billion research programme open to scientists from around the world. And we are also mindful of the issue of mobility and keeping people here."We are grateful to all those scientists from around the world who have chosen to pursue their careers here and we want them to stay."There isn't absolute certainty now, which I would love to be able to give. But what I can say is we are aware that, if we want to be the go-to place for science - which is our ambition as a nation - then mobility and reducing friction has to be a key part of that."A UK government spokesman said: "The UK plays a vital role in making Europe a pioneering base for research and values the contribution that international researchers make to the UK."This will not change when we leave the EU. We will seek an ambitious relationship on science and innovation with our EU partners, exploring future UK participation in mutually beneficial research programmes, and will continue to support science, research and innovation through our modern Industrial Strategy."We have a proud record of welcoming the world's brightest scientists and researchers to work and study here, and after we leave the EU we will have an immigration system to support this."For related news and features, visit our Brexit section.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online DirectorySubscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all of the international assignments and global mobility news.