Brexit government pledge sought to keep EU-backed UK science alive

'Poor man of Europe' warning from Digital Science chief


BREXIT Scientists and politicans have called on the Brexit government to keep funding EU-backed projects at current rates or risk becoming a backwater.

Nicola Blackwood, chair of Parliament's Science and Technology Committee, urged the Brexit Government to move quickly to reassure scientists and their collaborators in the EU that the UK "remains firmly open for business."

"Inevitably there will be significant uncertainty over the terms of the UK's future settlement with the EU.

"If EU research funding is affected after the exit negotiations that follow, the Treasury may have to reallocate funds previously sent to the EU," she added.

She was backed by the managing director of scientists' services firm Digital Science, Daniel Hook.

Hook demanded an immediate pledge that science projects in the UK receiving EU funding receive parity with the rest of Europe.

Anything less could see the UK become the "poor cousin of Europe" according to Hook, who was a student in Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London before joining Digital Science.

"What we need as soon as possible is a very firm commitment, from the Treasury and [Department for Business, Innovation and Skills], that funding for research, collaboration, training, and mobility will be sustained by a redirection into the science budget of the money previously flowing through Brussels," he said in a statement.

Hook's firm, before the vote, published a report that estimated leaving the EU would slash £1bn from the UK's research funds.

UK universities coordinate one-third of projects funded by Horizon 2020 – Europe's largest funding programme, worth nearly €80m – according to an article by InFacts, a website in favour of the UK staying in the EU.

Some of the most important research projects are led by the UK. The Joint European Torus (JET) laboratory is the world's largest and most powerful fusion reactor, located in Oxfordshire, which aims to produce clean energy on a large scale using nuclear fusion. The European Commission has signed a contract worth €283m (£230m) to keep JET ticking over for another five years.

The Graphene Flagship is an even bigger project – with a budget of €1bn – that studies how the "miracle material" may be used in future technologies. The UK are world leaders in this field, with two scientists from the University of Manchester sharing the Nobel prize for discovering graphene in 2014.

Now that the UK has decided to leave the EU, the government will have to activate Article 50 to begin the leave process.

If the government were to trigger Article 50 now, its membership would cease in 2018 – before Horizon 2020 ends – and it is unclear how projects will be affected. It should be noted, however, that the EU still funds non-EU countries, including Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. ®

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