Scientists are calling for Brexit negotiations to preserve “the flow of people and ideas across borders” that is vital to scientific research in Britain and the European Union. The letter was addressed to UK Prime Minster Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and was signed by 29 Nobel Laureates, and other top UK and EU scientists on Saturday.
According to BBC News, the researchers outline the ways science can contribute to the world, such as cancer research and clean energy development, but notes that this depends on allowing researchers to collaborate and move across borders. It calls on the EU and UK to maintain a favorable political atmosphere for research.
“All parties in the negotiations on the UK’s departure from the EU must now strive to ensure that as little harm as possible is done to research. It is widely recognized that investing in research and innovation is increasingly crucial for shaping a better European future,” says the letter.
Sir Paul Nurse, who won the Nobel Prize for his breast cancer research, says Britain could lose £1 billion annually in science funding, since UK scientists have received more grants from Europe than the country has helped fund. Science advocates had hoped that an associate status could be achieved, such as that held by Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU. This status allows scientists to receive EU grants, and for the nation to contribute to those grants in turn. However, with the Brexit deadline looming next March, this plan has yet to materialize for the UK.
Furthermore, restrictions on freedom of movement could be discouraged by the need for a visa.
Nurse says British science and research will survive the worst effects of Brexit. However, “at the moment Britain is at the top of the tree; we are considered widely around the world to be the best and we are in danger of losing that top position if we don’t get this right,” he warned.
A recent survey of 1,000 scientists at the Francis Crick Institute in London, the largest biomedical lab in the UK, showed that 97 percent of researchers believe a “hard Brexit” (one with no special provisions to maintain the EU/UK relationship) would be bad for science in Britain. Forty percent of the scientists are from EU nations, and 78 percent of these scientists said they were now less likely to remain in the UK. Overall, 51 percent of the institute’s scientists said they were less likely to continue working in the UK.