Background Briefing: The Government’s Approach to Data and Science, Research and Innovation


On Wednesday 23 May, the Government published two documents spelling out how they envisage the future UK-EU relationship working in the areas of data and science, research & innovation. In the case of data, this document follows a previous position paper from August last year, which can be found here (Open Britain’s assessment of that document can be found here.) In the case of science and research, the document follows an earlier Government position paper from September last year, available here (Open Britain’s assessment is available here.)

This briefing paper outlines Open Britain’s top lines and our assessment of the Government’s position papers as published on 23 May.

Top Lines

  • The proposals by the Government would yet again see the UK moving from a position of rule maker to rule taker.
  • Not only is the Government either looking to adhere to existing EU rules (in the case of data) or participate in existing EU programmes (in the case of science and research) it has accepted a role for the ECJ, previously a red line, and acknowledges that the future relationship will be based on EU law.
  • In the case of data, the partnership which the Government are proposing reflects the “have- your-cake-and-eat-it” approach for which they have become renowned and is highly unlikely to be agreed to by the EU.
  • In the case of science, research and innovation, with the Government acknowledging the importance of EU funds for scientific research and collaboration and noting that it wants to stay in certain programmes, this begs the question as to why the Government think Brexit is in the science community’s interests.


In Detail


  • The Government’s document acknowledges that the future UK-EU relationship will be based on the GDPR regulation (which comes into force on 25 May) as well as the Law Enforcement Directive, both of which are EU rules. This, yet again, raises serious questions over the point of Brexit, where as opposed to striking our own path in the world on data, we will actually end up shadowing EU rules. This turns us from a rule maker to a rule taker, the opposite of what leading Brexiters promised.
  • Taking into consideration that the Government are trying to pursue the hardest of hard Brexits, the irony of today’s document cannot be overstated where the Government acknowledge that risks relating to the loss of free data flows include a “reduction in legal certainty”, an increase in costs as well as the disruption of “vital public services processes.”
  • The Government also acknowledge that the entire EU data market could grow to €739bn by 2020, raising questions as to why the Government would want to make it harder for the UK to have access to this market, through its policy of taking the country out of the Single Market.     
  • As per its paper on the future security relationship from 9 May[1] the Government have accepted that “Data-driven law enforcement and the swift and effective exchange of data between law enforcement agencies is critical to the co-operation needed to tackle serious crime and terrorism” raising questions as to how this co-operation will be able to continue post-Brexit if links are not as strong as they are today.
  • The paper acknowledges that the EU are proposing, as per the European Council guidelines of 23 March 2018, that EU rules should underpin the future relationship where “As regards personal data, protection should be governed by Union rules on adequacy with a view to ensuring a level of protection essentially equivalent to that of the Union.”[2] The Government are proposing an alternative method, which would see the UK Information Commissioner’s Office continue to play a rule in EU data oversight. This is highly unlikely to be accepted by the EU side.


Science, Research & Innovation

  • The paper acknowledges the increasingly global nature of research in the UK, underscoring the importance of EU-funded collaboration and how that drives scientific research. It also acknowledges that the EU has concluded “bilateral science and technology agreements with 20 countries around the world” raising questions as to how the UK would be able to continue to have these relationships with these third countries, post-Brexit.
  • The paper also references the importance of EU co-operation in the area of scientific research. It notes that the Government intend to have full association to Horizon Europe (an EU fund which will provide funding and research grants across the EU from 2020 onwards[3]) and notes that the UK would “respect the remit of the CJEU, where relevant, where we participate in EU programmes”. This is the opposite of “taking back control”.
  • Finally, the Government note, as they have in the past, that they would be willing to pay for access to programmes in which it was felt that the UK would benefit. Whilst scientific co-operation should be welcomed, this essentially amounts to the UK paying for a lesser relationship than the one we enjoy the today, where as an EU member, the UK gets to frame EU funding programmes. Outside the EU, this would be much, much harder.