Claire Skentelbery, Secretary General of the European Biotechnology Network

In the Brexshit

Well, those bloody idiots in the UK managed to do it – talk themselves from decades of hysteria about straight bananas (entirely fabricated by one B Johnson during his time as a journalist in Brussels) into actually voting to leave.

The UK can now bestride the world once more, free from the shackles of EU tyranny, ready to reassume the economic, social and moral magnificence of its colonial heyday. Look out Zimbabwe, hope you kept all those Rhodesia passports and hey US, they are expecting you back in the same condition in which they left you. Form an orderly queue.


Of course this is great for science, as Britain was ACE at that – no need for any kind of plan there. As I was repeatedly told by Brexit campaigners, science and scientific collaboration just happen, they don’t need any kind of funding and common framework to help it along. The UK certainly doesn’t need any experts, as the whole country was told by the Justice Secretary Michael Gove – so all those pesky Nobel prize winners who said Brexit was a stupid idea can just go back to looking pretty in a lab coat.

The UK currently has a strong sector, but for how much longer, given its 1.7% GDP spent on R&D (OECD) is lower than the EU average, bottom of the G7 and far behind Germany’s 2.8%? EU funding and collaboration is a vital part of that – especially for UK universities, which dominate EU programmes, and the UK will be walking away from that if freedom of movement is compromised. Once you weaken the innovation base, the industry that grows from it will follow, and it is not just about the money, it is about collaboration and ability to lead international research. The UK will be unable to attract great scientists if their career path is limited, regardless of domestic funding levels.


The impact on UK science has already started. Scientists for EU has recorded more than 40 cases of UK university researchers being asked to leave project consortia for H2020 deadlines after June 23, and we can expect a big drop in UK presence in projects, particularly as coordinators. In big companies, planned posts are being relocated into the wider EU, while scientists from mainland Europe are declining job offers. The EMA will pack its bags in London and take with it the skilled commercial regulatory community that has grown up around it, while the planned EU patent court won’t even start. Finally, structural funds to help regions develop better scientific capability are already on hold, even before Article 50 is triggered. Suck it up Wales – you get what you voted for.

National excellence is an international game, especially in science. Being proudly independent/insanely deluded (delete as applicable) comes with a price and the UK does not have the currency to pay the bill.