Open Britain Background Briefing: The Government’s position paper on “Collaboration on science and innovation”


Today the Government published a new Brexit position paper on UK-EU science and innovation cooperation. The paper, Collaboration on science and innovation: a future partnership paper, can be found here.

Open Britain have conducted a detailed assessment of this paper. We welcome the Government’s recognition of the importance of continued close cooperation on science and innovation. However, the paper has three key weaknesses that stand out:

  1. A lack of serious proposals. The paper was billed by the Department for Exiting the EU last night as “lay[ing] out a range of mechanisms”, but the reality is that there is very little detail and no concrete proposals. Instead, the paper constitutes a list of agencies Britain is currently a member of and the benefits they bring, alongside an insistence that Britain is leaving but wants to retain all the benefits.
  2. Red lines on the Single Market and European Court of Justice. The paper illustrates yet again how the Government's unnecessary red lines on leaving the Single Market and ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ are major impediments to getting the best deal for Britain, whether on medicine, nuclear or space cooperation. 
  3. Time is running out. The Government is calling for a “full and open discussion” about all the complex and interrelated issues contained in the document. But with the Article 50 talks looking increasingly unlikely to progress in October onto talks about the future relationship, the Government’s determination to reach a final agreement even over just this area looks wildly optimistic.    


Open Britain’s Position: 

  • Science, innovation and related sectors are vital to the British economy and they need a Brexit deal that does not harm their links with Europe. 
  • The Government’s recognition of the value of cooperation with the EU on science and innovation is welcome, but this paper presents yet another long wish list, which is very short on solutions.
  • The paper illustrates how the Government’s hard Brexit path and their ideological obsession with the ECJ and ending freedom of movement is a serious impediment to future scientific and research co-operation.
  • It seems inevitable that we will have to continue to make financial contributions in order to retain access to Horizon 2020 and other programmes, which implies Brexit will not cause the savings to the public finances promised by the Leave campaign. Britain risks going from being a net recipient of EU science funding to being a net contributor.


In Detail

Lack of serious proposals

“The UK hopes to have a full and open discussion with the EU about all of these options as part of the negotiations on our future partnership … The UK would welcome dialogue with the EU on the shape of a future science and innovation agreement, reflecting our joint interest in promoting continued close cooperation, for the benefit of UK and European prosperity.” 

  • The paper fails to put forward any concrete solutions to the fears outlined by the scientific community concerning our withdrawal from the European Union and the effect it would have for scientific research and development in the UK.

  • The paper contains a worrying lack of detail for a sector in need of assurances for upcoming research projects. 
  • It provides no clarity on the UK’s future membership or associate membership of vital agencies and programs such as the European Medicines Agency, Euratom and the Horizon 2020 grant scheme, merely discussing how the UK Government will seek to maintain ‘close co-operation’; which is unwelcome news for a sector that is demanding answers.

  • Time is running out for the “full and open discussion” the Government is calling for. With the Article 50 talks looking increasingly unlikely to progress in October onto talks about the future relationship, the Government needs to start coming forward with concrete proposals. The complexity of the issues and institutions touched on in the paper highlights how unrealistic it is to think that an entire new future partnership with the EU can be agreed by October 2018.

Implications of the Government’s red lines

“In addition, through the EEA agreement, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein participate in EMA procedures and both contribute to and benefit from the peer-review arrangements for scientific assessment.”

“At present, ERN’s are only open to EU Member States and EEA members.”

“European Economic Area (EEA) states Norway and Iceland enjoy full access to data and services and the right for industry to bid into the [Copernicus] programme, without programme voting rights.”

  • The paper points to a number of agencies with which Britain could retain a much closer relationship if we were to remain in the Single Market through membership of the EEA. 
  • This highlights the absurdity of the Government’s red line on the European Court of Justice and its determination to leave the Single Market. 
  • Instead of remaining a member of the EMA, Britain faces a £520m bill, and around 1,000 job losses, for moving the EMA from London to mainland Europe.
  • This paper is a reminder that the decision to leave the Single Market is resulting in a loss of control of regulation in medicines and the jobs that come with them. The Government should be keeping Britain in the Single Market and fighting hard to retain these agencies in the UK.


Free Movement 

“The Government has made clear that, although freedom of movement will cease to apply in the UK, the UK will continue to welcome the brightest and best, and as such, migration between the UK and the EU will continue after the UK leaves the EU. This Government wants the UK to remain a hub for international talent and its departure from the EU must be seen in this context.” 

  • It is not clear how can the Government can ensure the continuation of Britain’s leading role in the international science community without our universities and businesses having unimpeded access to the brightest and best minds in the European Union via freedom of movement. 
  • A crackdown on immigration from the EU will only damage our ability to ‘remain a hub for international talent’. Prior to the referendum, more than 150 fellows of the Royal Society, including three Nobel laurates and the Astronomer Royal, warned that any threat to freedom of movement will have devastating effects on scientific research and development in the UK, as it will prevent the best scientific minds from researching in the UK. [1]
  • Switzerland has already learnt that to restrict the freedom of movement will result in being excluded from European programs such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus, meaning that students and researchers will not be funded to research in the United Kingdom. [2]
  • Given this, it would be illogical for European researchers to face barriers on their entry and exit of the UK and vice versa, when the current system is thriving and allows seamless movement, benefitting the scientific community.

Financial contributions

“Currently, associated countries have the same level of access to Horizon 2020 as EU Member States. Associated countries do not have a formal vote over the work programme, but can attend programme committees, which provides them with a degree of influence. Terms of association (including financial contributions) vary, and are determined by international agreements with the EU.35 All third countries without formal associate status can participate in specific parts of the programme, with some restrictions.36 Apart from a few exceptions, these third countries are not eligible for EU funding and usually fund their own participation.”

  • The paper makes clear that the Government would like to remain a part of Horizon 2020 (which will be superseded by Framework Nine). But Britain is currently a net recipient of research funding and it is unlikely we could remain part of Horizon 2020 and then Framework Nine on current terms.
  • Britain is likely to have to pay at least €1.3bn a year to remain part of Horizon 2020, equivalent to its current annual receipts from the programme, for some sort of associate membership similar to Norway, Switzerland and Israel. If, as is planned, Framework Nine is expanded to around €100bn, the UK annual contribution could be closer to €2bn per year.[3] 
  • Any commitment to paying for continued participation in key programmes is to be welcomed, but makes a further mockery of the claims made by Brexiteers about ending contributions to the EU. 
  • But ultimately, the lack of detail in the paper means it will do little to address the deep level of concern within the scientific community over future funding.