Scientists for EU and partners respond to the UK Government’s position paper on Science

Published on September 07, 2017




Scientists for EU, Healthier IN the EU, the European Movement UK and Britain for Europe have issued the joint response below to the government’s position paper on science:

We find the position paper to be enthusiastic and impressive on documentation of the current state of UK-EU science relations. It is also good and entirely expected that the UK wishes to maintain the maximum possible relationship with the EU and European partners in science. However, the Government’s paper is utterly devoid of any suggestions for bridging Brexit obstacles and developing this partnership into the future. Given the title of “A Future Partnership Paper” - this is ironic.

The format appears to follow that of other position papers. Namely; 1) to acknowledge EU achievements, 2) to discuss how impressive and worthy of special treatment the UK is, 3) to say that a deep and special relationship is sought, 4) to note that our current deep and special relationship is being broken, 5) to express desire that some solution will emerge from the ether to carry the UK forward painlessly.

We particularly note the sentence: “…the UK would also like to explore forging a more ambitious and close partnership with the EU than any yet agreed between the EU and a non-EU country.” Given that this statement occurs a few lines before stating “freedom of movement will cease to apply in the UK”, we openly wonder at the notion that Brexit Britain should have a more privileged status with the EU than Switzerland or Norway who subscribe to Free Movement, accept ECJ jurisdiction on projects and have close Single Market bonds.

This paper would have been remarkably useful before the referendum debate. It documents the current UK-EU-European science ecosystem beautifully. However, it is presented at this late hour as a blueprint for future partnership, yet without concrete suggestions for building bridges or acknowledgement of barriers. Without any attempt to acknowledge and creatively tackle the hard issues around rejoining the science team, the position paper merely sells warm dreamy fog. This is unacceptable, given the vanishing time in which to complete herculean negotiations.

At stake here is a UK-EU relationship in science which is truly world-leading. Everyone within British and European science wants to maintain this critical link in the centre of the rich European science, technology and innovation ecosystem. Europe is a team which produces 39% of the world’s scientific output.

However, this team of countries participating in the EU science programme abides by certain rules and understandings. The Government paper does not make clear how the UK plans to meet with or negotiate those obligations. The obvious barriers are 1) amount of funding, 2) recognition of ECJ jurisdiction for project-level dispute settlement and most importantly 3) abiding by/ renegotiating EU and EFTA free movement of people.

Here we offer an overview of the situation, assessment of the paper – and posit creative solutions to help achieve what needs to be done for a sector critical to the UK’s economic future, quality of life, soft power and global prestige.

[Quotes at bottom]

Overview & context:

  • It is good news that UK Government is actively seeking to keep the UK in the science programme, Copernicus & Galileo fully and in the long run. That is what UK scientists overwhelmingly want.

  • The EU programmes have value which complements national funding, as they facilitate large multinational “dream teams” that UK institutions can lead. International research has 40% more impact than national-only research. Reference: 

  • The vote to leave the EU caused immediate damage, especially due to fears of loss of EU collaboration. Scientists for EU documented this:

  • The position paper makes no mention of level of financial commitment that it would offer to secure access on an Associate Member level. It is well known that the UK has been receiving more science funds than it has been contributing. However, this was counterbalanced by the UK paying into Structural Funds which invest in the R&I capacity of struggling regions in Europe. For both political and pragmatic reasons, the UK must offer more than to pay its own way in crude financial returns, remembering the additional value derived from access to the framework. It must factor in administration costs and capacity-building costs shouldered by other advanced European economies in the common scientific team effort.

  • There will also be an issue around Free Movement. Although some Associated Countries (e.g. Algeria, Israel) participate in the EU science programme without a Free Movement agreement, they are outside Europe. Switzerland reneged on Free Movement in 2014 and were outside full membership until this year. Retaining Free Movement with a legal adaptation (to demand jobs advertised locally before internationally) allowed Switzerland back in. This is widely seen as a clear precedent for the UK in terms partial membership models.

  • It is overwhelmingly in the EU27's interests to keep Europe's powerful science team together. Europe as a whole produces 39% of the world’s research outputs. The US is on 25%. UK excellence in science makes our institutions valuable to multinational European teams.

Addressing the barriers creatively

  • Science can be a “white knight” in the negotiations, if played right. It has been a win-win for UK-EU science and should continue to be. Science is an area of recent European success, proving the European model of collaboration. The Government likes to pronounce that “we are leaving the EU but not Europe”. Yet they need to prove this. Keeping our science ecosystem together would be one way of demonstrating this intent.

  • With that in mind, if both the UK and EU were to commit to championing “European science” and drawing the world’s attention to the resurgent success of European science as a full ecosystem (UK, EU, Switzerland, Norway, ESA, CERN, ITER, EBI, dozens of research infrastructures), then there is a common mission expressed to the world. This then helps draw talent, investment and collaborative links for the continent.

  • With payments to purchase a role in the science programme, the UK should offer to help develop the R&I capacities of struggling European regions. If the UK is unwilling to do this through the EU budget and programmes, it may offer bilateral deals with Eastern European Member States in order to fulfil that teaming and investment function. This then helps the UK continue to support the weaker members of the European team. In addition to leveraging itself into closer collaboration on the science programme, it also helps UK networking, developing its own expertise in R&I capacity-building, exchange of talent and also increasing its own soft power within the European science ecosystem.

  • With the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the UK should simply follow the Swiss model, where international disputes are settled by bespoke dispute resolution mechanisms, but all projects funded subscribe to the ECJ. This is because the Commission has a responsibility to fund, audit and administrate the science programme and the ECJ is the oversight mechanism for disputes. There are precedents of disagreements between Commission auditors and Swiss Institutions going to the ECJ.

  • With Free Movement, again the Swiss model should be explored. The major issues that the UK public express with immigration from the EU can all be settled within the flexible Freedom of Movement framework. The Swiss negotiated with the EU to allow themselves an adaptation to the framework. Namely, to demand jobs are offered to local Swiss nationals before advertising of those jobs internationally. The EU agreed. The Swiss also register all foreign employees within the country. We also note the “3 month rule” associated with Free Movement that the UK Government does not use.  Therefore, there exists a recipe, within the Freedom of Movement framework, to control immigration much more tightly and to selectively prioritise employment of British nationals.


 “The key problems for science are the two ‘red lines’ of restricting Freedom of Movement and not being subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ. This paper fails to address either of these and as a result perpetuates the damage being caused to UK research and technology by Brexit uncertainty.”

– Dr Rob Davidson, Director, Scientists for EU

 “UK scientists overwhelmingly support the EU science programme and Vote Leave pledged to continue it. The UK-EU science relationship has been a huge success story and all efforts should be made to continue it.”

– Dr Mike Galsworthy, Director, Scientists for EU

“The Brexit government is not impressing anyone with these empty papers. They seem to be hoping that the EU will provide a solution to the problems of Brexit when it is the responsibility of the Brexit leaders to defend their claims with realistic solutions.” 

– Dr Rob Davidson, Director, Scientists for EU

 “The UK government would be wise not to offer to continue to pay only the current amount, as it’s widely known the UK has financially profited from the science programme. However, to pay only what we receive back and leave the admin and structural fund costs to other advanced European nations to shoulder probably will not be well received either.”

 – Dr Mike Galsworthy, Director, Scientists for EU

 “We welcome the government’s keenness to be involved in specific programs such as Galileo and Copernicus but these need to be backed by clear and firm commitments and soon because contracts are already being decided and the UK will lose out if the position paper allows uncertainty to continue.”

– Dr Rob Davidson, Director, Scientists for EU

 “The UK has made bold commitments to its space sector, but this is badly jeopardized if we cannot play fully in the EU space ecosystem. Similarly with tech, the size of the market matters.”

– Dr Mike Galsworthy, Director, Scientists for EU

 “Switzerland recently overturned their own narrow referendum that restricted freedom of movement because of the damage to their participation in EU science, the UK’s position paper must account for how the UK will keep to its Brexit ‘red lines’ and yet achieve a different outcome”

- Dr Rob Davidson, Director, Scientists for EU

 “In their recent position papers, the Brexit government has sung the praises of the EU’s harmonized regulations for trade and development. They need to recognize these also benefit pure research and technological industries. From pharma to groceries, UK R&D and UK citizens benefit from common markets, regulations and dispute resolution.”

- Dr Rob Davidson, Director, Scientists for EU

 “Science is integrated with policy, regulations, tech and trade. To cherry-pick it away from EU membership works reasonably if we stay in the Single Market. However, it becomes much more tortuous if we leave EEA, EFTA and Europe’s advanced ecosystem altogether.”

 – Dr Mike Galsworthy, Director, Scientists for EU


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