Just how much would no-deal Brexit harm biomedical science? Researchers speak out
As Conservative Party leaders face off in a bid to become the UK’s next Prime Minister, scientists from a range of specialties — from cancer to climate — are sounding louder alarms about the threats of a looming no-deal Brexit for their research work.
Citing an analysis by the University College London of the latest EU research funding data, the Guardian reported that UCL and eight other Russell Group universities ran only 20 big European research collaborations in 2018, a steep drop from around 50 in 2016. And individual researchers are feeling the cloud of uncertainty snuffing out prospects.
While the British government under Theresa May had outlined a cooperative framework to nurture science and innovation, it all became moot when she failed multiple attempts to get the deal she negotiated with the EU through the Parliament. That murky future has driven potential collaborators away, Pamela Kearns, director of Cancer Research UK’s national clinical trials unit, told the newspaper.
“In one recent discussion about a funding bid with very longstanding European partners, it was decided they wouldn’t have a UK partner on the project as it would be too great a risk,” Kearns, who currently oversees 16 trials across 21 European countries, said.
She is also worried that UK scientists will lose access to Horizon Europe, a €100 billion (£89.9 billion) funding program that features cancer as one of its key missions, if it crashes out of the EU on October 31 without a deal.
Her concerns echo those of many others, including Nobel Prize-winning cell biologist Paul Nurse, who compared the fund to the Champion’s League. Dropping out of it, the Francis Crick director warned, would represent a major blow to UK science.
Paul Workman of the Institute of Cancer Research also chimed in:
I am concerned that it could very well become much more difficult for UK scientists to work with their colleagues in Europe if they can no longer join European consortia or access EU information resources that allow scientists to find potential collaborators in future. Indeed I already hear many stories where our UK scientists are being discouraged from joining European initiatives – just based on the uncertainty.
At the very least, Workman added, the government should reaffirm its commitment to R&D and work to ensure a stream of public and private investments in the long term.
Days ago, 11 groups — including the CRUK, the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Association of Medical Research Charities — made the same call to the PM hopefuls, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt:
The next Prime Minister must set out a long-term plan for research and innovation investment up to 2030. This should build on the Government target to boost overall R&D investment initially to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 – and the longer-term aim of 3% of GDP. But words and targets will not be enough, the UK needs a coherent long-term plan to build our position as the global hub for new world-leading technologies, to draw on our strengths across multiple disciplines, to attract talent from around the world and to promote British entrepreneurship.
The 160,000 Tories tasked with selecting the country’s next leader will begin voting next week, with results expected on July 23.