The seismic upheaval promised by June’s referendum vote continues to loom large over the future of science and innovation. However, beyond Theresa May’s assertion that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, we know little about the Government’s vision for the UK once it leaves the EU. At Prime Minister’s Questions on 26 October, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn compared Theresa May to Blackadder’s Baldrick, saying that her ‘cunning plan was to have no plan at all’. However, with exit negotiations set to begin next year, the Government might contend that a smart poker player would never reveal their hand before a play.
Treasury underwrites Horizon 2020
In August, the Chancellor announced that the Treasury would underwrite Horizon 2020 funding granted before we leave the EU, even where the project continues beyond our departure. The news will reassure those bidding for Horizon 2020 grants now, but does little to answer questions over future access to the programme.
MPs to vote on Article 50
The High Court has ruled against the Government and declared that Parliament must vote on triggering Article 50. This decision, which the Government is likely to challenge on appeal, means the Executive cannot act unilaterally in starting the Brexit process and must gain the approval of MPs beforehand. It’s unlikely that parliament would not vote to invoke Article 50 as doing so would be characterised as going against the referendum outcome and will of the people, but MPs now have an opportunity to shape the UK’s negotiating position by making demands on the terms of negotiation in return for their support. It also enhances the possibility of a snap General Election in 2017 as Theresa May’s Government may seek to win a more comfortable majority in the House of Commons.
Science and Brexit Ministers questioned by Science and Technology Select Committee
Jo Johnson, the science minister, and Robin Walker, a junior minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, answered questions on Brexit from the Science and Technology Committee recently.
Walker was keen to stress that future immigration arrangements would ‘welcome the best and the brightest’ but must also ‘exert control’. In addition, Jo Johnson was able to clarify that Treasury funds used to underwrite Horizon 2020 grants were in addition to the existing science budget and would not be taken from money already committed to science. Mr Johnson also said that Brexit offered an opportunity to start with a ‘clean sheet of paper’ and think again about how we fund collaborative science around the world ‘without prejudicing’ our arrangements with Horizon 2020.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has taken the first steps towards a second independence vote by announcing a consultation on another referendum. The First Minister used her speech at the SNP conference to make the case for another vote on Scotland’s place in the UK, while also putting forward a number of proposals to protect Scotland’s links with the EU.
Early impacts of Brexit emerge with higher scientific costs and lower EU university applications
The drop in value of sterling has forced many companies to adapt, and suppliers of lab equipment are no different. Thermo Fisher Scientific recently announced that it had been forced to increase prices by 5% in reaction to the falling pound, while reagent supplier Newmarket Scientific has explained to its customers that costs will increase by 10%.
Meanwhile, recent figures released by the university admissions organisation UCAS show that applications from EU students to the most competitive courses – medicine, dentistry and veterinary science – are down 9% on last year. The fall in EU applications ends a trend for year on year increases.
MPs elected to Brexit Committee
Hilary Benn, the Labour MP, remain campaigner, and former shadow foreign secretary, will chair a new Government committee to scrutinise Brexit. The Committee has 21 members and will have an influential role in examining the work of the Department for Exiting the European Union. Prominent leave campaigner Michael Gove will also sit on the committee.
No doubt there will be lots more to report over the coming months and the BSI will endeavour to keep you up to date on developments while representing the views of our membership to decision makers in government. If you are interested in finding out more and hearing views from the BSI and other immunologists, do consider attending our session at the BSI/ NVVI Congress on ‘Brexit: what are the implications for immunology?. This takes place at 12:50 on Thursday 8 December and will feature Oliver Iliot from the Institute for Government alongside BSI President Peter Openshaw and EFIS President René van Lier.
Public Affairs Manager