The summit, and the Committee’s associated inquiry, provide a timely opportunity for the community to come together and outline what actions UK government needs to take now. The Committee will deliver their recommendations to government, as the next phase of the negotiations commences, helping to ensure that the government continues to recognise science and innovation as one of its key negotiating priorities – as the Prime Minister outlined in her Lancaster House speech just over a year ago – and the government will need to respond to these recommendations.
Since the agreement that marked the end of the phase one negotiations, we have continued our work to highlight our three key priority areas for research and innovation as we leave the EU: funding & collaboration, mobility and regulation.
We welcomed the confirmation – at the end of the phase one negotiations – that UK researchers can continue to participate fully in Horizon 2020, including coordinating projects, for the duration of the programme. In the short-term, this meets our ask to government of maintaining access to international research and development funding programmes, along with the collaboration opportunities these bring. Researchers across the UK and the EU can continue to work with each other on collaborative projects, even where funding for these projects runs beyond the date that the UK leaves the EU.
In the time since this agreement was struck, we have seen a cabinet reshuffle that has introduced a new Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation – Sam Gyimah MP. The new Minister continues to chair the High Level Stakeholder Working Group on EU Exit, Universities, Research and Innovation initiated by his predecessor, Jo Johnson MP. Our President John Holman continues to represent the Royal Society of Chemistry, Royal Society of Biology, the Council of Mathematical Sciences and the Institute of Physics as a member of this group.
More recently, and following on from our strong engagement with the Environmental Audit Committee on their inquiry into ‘The Future of Chemicals Regulation after the EU Referendum’, the Committee Chair, Mary Creagh, led a Westminster Hall debate on the topic. Our messages regarding chemicals regulation were championed by MPs during the debate, with Angela Smith MP referencing the Royal Society of Chemistry by name. Many other speakers made references to our messaging on data, expertise and collaboration in chemicals regulation.
Our messages to government
As negotiations progress and at the summit today, we are asking the government to take three key actions, focusing on each of our three priority areas.
Funding & Collaboration
Develop and share a proposal for the UK’s involvement in the successor to Horizon 2020.
The European Commission is already drawing up plans for Framework Programme 9 (FP9) – the successor to Horizon 2020. The government needs to clarify its vision for how the country could be involved in this new programme. The sooner this is clarified, the more likely it is that the UK government can achieve its vision of building an ‘ambitious agreement on science and innovation’ with the EU, once the UK has left.
Send a clear, unified message, from across government, that a flexible immigration system will be needed in the future, to keep the UK at the forefront of the global science and innovation community.
Later this year, the government is expected to introduce a new Immigration Bill and publish an Immigration White Paper, outlining their approach to a future UK immigration system. We ask the government to show that they understand the need for a system that both welcomes and makes it easy for researchers, innovators, technical specialists and students alike to come to the UK at different stages of their career journey and for different lengths of time.
Provide clarity on which institutions will make regulatory decisions, the UK or the European Commission, in the UK’s future regulatory system upon exit day and during any agreed transition period.
The chemicals sector is an industry supporting many other industries; it provides vital and sometimes irreplaceable materials in supply chains that are essential to developing everything from new therapies in the life sciences, through to materials for energy applications and inventions in aerospace and robotics. Regulation of chemicals in these industries is therefore an area with huge potential impact, and many opportunities for research and innovation. Regulation will also affect the implementation of the government's Industrial Strategy, which was unveiled late last year.
There is still considerable uncertainty over how the UK will regulate chemicals going forward, in particular who will make regulatory decisions and what principles they will use to guide the decision making process. We welcome the proposal in the Industrial Strategy White Paper to convene a new ‘Ministerial Working Group on Future Regulation’ but in the near-term businesses that translate scientific discoveries into products and services need to know what the UK’s future regulatory framework will look like, particularly during the proposed transition period.
Decisions around regulation depend heavily on robust data, as well as scientific experts who can interpret and communicate the implications of such data. The data is used to inform decisions on individual substances and products.
Currently this data is collected by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the European Commission, and it is not clear how the UK will access or generate this data in the future. It is also unclear whether we will have adequate access to the requisite expertise to interpret the data and support decision making.
Currently, with the UK as part of the EU, decisions around chemicals regulation are made via the specialist committees of the ECHA, with scientific experts – including those from the UK – contributing their recommendations, meaning that scientists across several nations work together and share expertise. We believe that this scientific collaboration needs to continue, uninterrupted, during any agreed transition period, particularly while the details of any future UK–EU regulatory relationship are still to be negotiated for the long term. Obstructions to this could potentially lead to unintentional and rapid divergence, through the deterioration of scientific relations.
As with all science, cooperation and collaboration are essential in the development of regulation across the world. Continued international cooperation on the science that underpins regulation, as well as on the development of regulation itself, helps to ensure that regulation is an effective means of enabling global innovation and trade, whilst providing appropriate and consistent safeguards for human health and the environment.
A strong, unified voice
Our concerns are shared by many across the scientific community, and it is crucial that we work alongside our community to send a strong and consistent message to government. Our participation in the Brexit Science and Innovation Summit is just one of the ways we are doing this.
The Royal Society of Chemistry was one of 52 UK and EU organisations that responded to a consultation exercise led by the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society to develop a vision for the Future Partnership between the UK and EU in research and innovation. This week, the Wellcome Trust have published recommendations from this piece of work, drawing together views from across the community to develop a vision for future UK–EU science partnerhsip that can provide guidance in the next stage of negotiations.
As the negotiations progress, we will continue to provide evidence and recommendations based on our three priority areas. Moreover, we will continue to join together with partners across our community to ensure that we have a strong unified voice for science on crosscutting issues such as mobility and collaboration. By working with our partners across disciplines and sectors, we continue our drive to achieve the best outcome for science as the UK leaves the EU.