According to the UK’s House of Commons science and technology select committee, Britain is risking its role as a global science and research leader by failing to commit to the EU’s next wave of science funding. Despite plans to break with the EU, Britain has the option to fund the program as an associate member, as non-EU members such as Switzerland and Norway have chosen to do, according to a report from the Guardian.
The fund, Framework Program 9, is set to start accepting bids for funding within a matter of weeks.
Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat MP, warned:
“It is crucial that the government acts swiftly. If it fails to do so both sides could suffer considerably as a result.”
The committee expressed concern that the government had so far “openly avoided” pledging to participate in the program, and noted that a deal for the UK’s continued participation would need to be struck no later than October.
The hesitation to commit has come despite comments by ministers stressing the value of science and the UK’s role as a leader in the field. The committee expressed concern that these comments had yet to be supported by action.
“With just one year remaining until Brexit, and a commonly-accepted aim of reaching a comprehensive Brexit deal by this autumn, the time for setting out broad aspirations has passed,” said the committee’s report, titled Brexit, Science, and Innovation. “It cannot be taken for granted that the UK will retain its status as a science superpower.”
Furthermore, the MPs said that ambiguity on immigration policies following Brexit was preventing the UK from drawing Europe’s leading scientific talent to UK companies and universities.
“Researchers and businesses need to know what the UK’s intentions are,” the report added.
Research in the UK has already been affected. British medical researchers said last year that they were being “bumped off grant applications” for EU research funding. According to the researchers, European colleagues worried their participation hinged on ambiguous, post-Brexit policies.
Late last year, Brexit Secretary David Davis said the UK will work to remain included in EU science initiatives to avoid jeopardizing its position as a leader in innovation. A series of position papers from ministers outlined plans to keep participating in such programs, including Horizon 2020, the predecessor to the Framework Program 9 currently under discussion.