International collaboration in chemistry has reciprocal benefits to UK and EU science. As Pilar Goya, president of European Chemical Society EUChemS, says: “Research and industrial competitiveness across the EU greatly benefit from the input of UK researchers and vice versa… As negotiations proceed to determine the relationship between the EU and the UK, we urge the negotiators to retain as strong as possible a relationship between EU and UK researchers. Continued collaboration without borders will improve research across all European countries for the benefit of mankind”.
The picture so far
While the UK was an EU member, chemicals regulation was largely shaped by legislation agreed through EU decision-making: REACH, the legislation on registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals being particularly significant. The UK government has said that it will not automatically align with EU regulations, and is developing a framework for UK chemicals regulation.
We are calling for a strong, independent, expert and adequately funded UK Chemicals agency, similar to the Food Standards Agency. Its role should be to ensure strongly science-informed UK chemicals regulation, which protects human health and the environment, enables innovation and supports international trade through alignment with EU and other trading partners. As a respected body, it would collaborate with the European Chemicals agency and other international bodies, to drive evidence-based regulation globally.
We are playing an active role in shaping and influencing the future of chemicals regulations in the UK on the basis of our policy position. Our evidence to Parliamentary Committee inquiries on the importance of cooperation between UK and EU scientists, the benefits of aligning chemicals regulation to minimise trade barriers and the importance of high standards has been used in those committees’ recommendations to Government. We also work closely with civil servants. Our policy positions are shaped by input from our members, who kindly volunteer time and expertise through round-tables, making policy and influencing more impactful.
The UK is an active member of the current EU Research and Innovation programme, Horizon 2020. At the time of writing, it had received approximately € 7.01bn (~£ 6.39bn) through Horizon 2020, with €482.6m (~£440.1m) awarded to the UK chemical sciences. To join the next framework programme, Horizon Europe, the UK will need to become an associate member.
Given the funding and collaboration benefits to the chemical sciences from Horizon 2020, we are strongly in favour of the UK becoming an associate member of Horizon Europe, as stated in a policy position last January and reflecting member views from our 2019 Brexit Survey. We were also cosignatory on a letter from the Wellcome Trust urging the UK and EU to agree on UK participation in Horizon Europe, and have been engaging with officials and ministers to advocate for this on behalf of the chemical sciences. Government continues to express ambition for UK association, while adding it is dependent on the programme being considered value for money.
In July this year we published a statement that if the UK cannot associate to Horizon Europe, or there is a delay to UK association, any domestic alternatives must be rapidly implemented and provide the same combination of benefits. This includes not only excellence-based long-term funding but the promotion of international data-sharing, particular support for small and medium enterprises, and aligning with other international collaborative programmes.
People are at the heart of good science and innovation. Scientists learn from and exchange knowledge with others, advancing their own careers and collaborating internationally - advancing science and humanity. Although the COVID pandemic has temporarily reduced it, migration is important to the chemical sciences. One consequence of Brexit is the ending of free movement for EU workers to the UK and vice versa at the end of 2020, which is driving changes to UK immigration policy.
As set out in our Mobility position statement, UK immigration policy should provide a streamlined and welcoming environment for skilled workers, using international reciprocal arrangements to allow both short- and long-term movement, and creating a visa system that attracts the best talent. We continue to make this case as the Immigration Bill is considered by the UK parliament.
Access to the right skills is also crucial for chemistry SMEs which make up 97% of all companies in the chemical sciences sector and whose innovations help to tackle a range of challenges, from mitigating and adapting to climate change, to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. For more on the role and contribution of the UK-based chemistry workforce, in SMEs and across the economy, find out about our new report on the economic contribution of the UK chemistry workforce.
The next steps
We will continue to ensure the voice of the chemical sciences are heard on these topics, by working closely with relevant Government Departments and Parliamentary Committees and continuing to gather evidence from our members in support of this. We will maintain strong relationships with European chemical societies to support collaborations going forward.
The Government have set up a “get ready for Brexit” page for businesses with updates to guidelines as they appear. As many members know, the Chemists’ Community Fund exists to support Royal Society of Chemistry members and their families during challenging times. For example, if you have a legal query linked to your own, your partner or dependents’ immigration status due to Brexit, you can find out more about the member legal advice line (along with information on all our policy positions) on our website.
Whatever comes next in the UK-EU negotiations, the RSC is here to advocate for the chemical sciences in that process and support its members.