‘No Deal’ Brexit for Science and Innovation

The RSE has responded to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s Inquiry into the implications of a ‘no deal’ Brexit for science and innovation.

The greatest risk, arguably, of a no deal Brexit is the high level of uncertainty associated with this outcome. The UK Government has sought to reassure the science and innovation community with commitments to underwrite UK participation in EU research programmes post Brexit. However, there is a significant lack of clarity and detail on how this underwrite will operate in practice.

The RSE is clear that securing direct and full participation in Horizon 2020 and its successor, Horizon Europe, should be a priority.

Paper summary

The greatest risk, arguably, of a No Deal Brexit is the high level of uncertainty associated with this outcome and the potentially deleterious effect this could have on the UK’s research endeavour.

While the UK Government has sought to reassure the science and innovation community with commitments to underwrite UK participation post-Brexit in EU research and exchange programmes, there is a significant lack of clarity and detail on how this underwrite will operate in practice.

Third country status does not extend to mono-beneficiary parts of Horizon 2020, including the European Research Council (ERC) grants and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions. At this stage, there are no firm details on what the contingency arrangements will look like.

The RSE has been clear that securing direct and full participation in Horizon 2020 and its successor Framework Programme, Horizon Europe, should be a priority. While the UK Government is keen to explore options for the UK’s association post-Brexit to European science and innovation programmes, the negotiating terms, timeframes and costs underlying association make this very uncertain and unpredictable territory.

The UK Government must provide additional, ring-fenced funding to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for the purposes of underwriting UK participation in Horizon 2020 in the event of a no deal. UKRI’s existing budgets for supporting national R&D must not be used to compensate for the loss of EU research funding in the event of a no deal. In this context, it will be important to ensure that the needs and particular circumstances of the devolved nations are taken into account.

The RSE is clear that the UK and Scottish Governments should work together and with their EU counterparts to ensure that students and staff in Scotland and across the UK continue to be able to participate fully in Erasmus+, both in the immediate and longer-term, including securing access to the successor programme from 2021. Continued UK participation in Erasmus+ post-Brexit will be reliant on an agreement being reached between the UK Government and the EU.

There is a great deal of uncertainty about what future immigration rules will apply to EU nationals seeking to enter the UK after 29 March 2019 under a no deal scenario.

A proportionate and flexible immigration system is required to support the UK’s research and innovation sectors. UK immigration policy will need to take account of the distinctive needs and circumstances of the devolved nations. This would include ensuring that any salary thresholds are not arbitrarily defined; rather, they need to take account of regional salary differentials. A sufficiently long lead-in period will be required to enable institutions, staff and students to plan for changes to the UK’s future immigration system.