In a speech at Jodrell Bank Observatory last month, the UK Prime Minister confirmed her desire for ‘a deep science partnership with the European Union’. She went on to say the UK would be willing to pay an appropriate cost for association to Horizon Europe (the next EU science funding framework programme) in return for ‘a suitable level of influence’. Two days after the Prime Minister’s speech, the government published a set of slides outlining their view of a framework for the UK–EU partnership science, research and innovation, which had been presented to the EU negotiating team, headed by Michel Barnier. This meeting was a positive step. The EU and the UK were able to discuss continued scientific collaboration, as the EU seeks to make its own future science and innovation programmes more open to the world.
What we’re doing now
The Royal Society of Chemistry, working with other organisations, has called for continued cooperation and collaboration between UK and EU scientists ever since the result of the referendum. Last month, we were one of over 50 signatories to the Future Partnerships statement, which outlines a vision for an ambitious and close future partnership between the UK and Europe. The signatories of the statement come from across Europe and include the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences, of which we are a member. As evidenced by EuCheMS’ own statement on research and education without borders after Brexit, the European chemistry community is united in wanting the UK and EU to continue to collaborate through the movement of people and UK participation in EU funding programmes.
We have been vocal in calling on the UK government to ensure that they address our community’s three priorities of funding & collaboration, mobility and regulation. As we approach a critical phase in the negotiations, we, like many others in our community are calling on the UK and the EU to reach a deal on science and innovation that will support growth, prosperity and advancement of science across Europe and beyond. Below, I outline our asks in relation to a future UK–EU science deal, based around our three priority areas.
Funding & Collaboration
The UK needs to secure associated country status in the Horizon Europe programme. UK participation in EU framework programmes brings benefits to both UK and EU researchers.
UK participation in Horizon Europe will bring benefits to both the UK and Europe. The UK is already an enthusiastic participant in the current programme, Horizon 2020. Between 2014 and 2016, UK participants led 20 % of the projects that were funded, helping to coordinate and drive collaborative research that can benefit citizens across the EU.
The European Commission published its proposal for Horizon Europe earlier this month, confirming that the programme will include three pillars focussed around open science, global challenges and open innovation. We welcome the news that Horizon Europe proposals would continue to support excellent science, encourage international collaboration to find solutions to global challenges and foster innovation throughout Europe.
The clusters of global challenges reveal plenty of overlap between challenges that the UK government has identified as grand challenges under its Industrial Strategy. In many cases, the nature of the challenges these two approaches are trying to address are the same. Pooling funding and expertise to cooperate on issues like how to support the health of aging populations, developing clean energy and harnessing the value of data through new digital and artificial intelligence based technologies, will lead to faster, better outcomes for all.
There must be easy movement of scientists between the UK and the EEA. This includes students and the dependents of those who move.
I’ve written before about how chemistry has no nationality and how our community is truly international in nature. We have been clear since the EU referendum result that we must not see barriers put in place that change this.
Last week we responded to the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee inquiry into an immigration system that works for science and innovation. In our response we outlined the mobility needs of those working in the research and innovation community and how an immigration system that supports science and innovation must be flexible and welcoming. We made clear that scientists need to be able to move on many different timescales – from moving to a new country to work and live there permanently, through to travelling for a few days to present research at a conference or collaborate.
The Royal Society of Chemistry plays a key role in this short-term exchange of ideas through our programme of conferences and symposia. Across all of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s major scientific conferences held in the UK between 2015 and 2017, more than 50% of our delegates came from outside the UK. Our Director of Science & Communities, Jo Reynolds recently published a piece in Research Fortnight explaining that science thrives on the ability of scientists from across the world to meet and work together face-to-face.
Discussions between scientists globally are critical to achieving harmonised and proportionate decision-making in regulation. Effective cooperation and continued data sharing between the UK and the EU is essential in supporting our future trading relationship, whilst enabling both parties to work together to contribute to global dialogue towards international harmonisation.
Specialist scientists and excellent science are at the heart of chemicals regulation, and play key roles in the context of decision making on the safety and use of chemicals in society. As the UK exits the EU, we are keen to see the UK Government establish a deal for science that includes effective partnerships with EU agencies, such as the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the European Commission Joint Research Centre, which are important partners for the chemicals sector.
To achieve an effective agreement on working with EU agencies in a new partnership deal, some key and fundamental terms must be negotiated and agreed with the EU before 29 March 2019, as part of the future partnership. We are set for a collapse in scientific collaboration, data sharing and specialist scientific engagement from 30 March 2019, as EU law dictates that the UK as a ‘third country’ will no longer be able to participate in data sharing functions or on EU agency scientific committees and working groups. This means that we could see regulatory divergences occurring unintentionally resulting in impacts on the use and shipping of chemicals and products between the UK and EU during the implementation period and beyond.
I recently wrote to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), who are developing a new chemicals strategy for England within the government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment, calling for:
- Uninterrupted and continued full participation of UK nominated scientific experts in the work of all ECHA’s scientific and technical committees and in the important scientific work of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), which underpins chemicals regulation.
- Effective and continued data sharing: to ensure harmonised decision-making, the UK must seek access to exactly the same detailed comprehensive dossiers of industry-derived data as ECHA are using to inform regulatory decisions for chemicals under regulations such as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of chemicals), CLP (classification, labelling and packaging), biocides and plant protection products.
- A future partnership in which the EU and UK work together to raise global standards for chemicals regulation. Such cooperative work could be through United Nations activities such as the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), through the development of harmonised standards at international level and work on globally harmonised scientific protocols and test guidelines with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Discussions between respected professional scientists are critical to achieving harmonised and proportionate decision-making on chemicals safety informed by the best science and evidence. For example, recent controversies arose around differential decisions on the interpretation of safety data on the widely used glyphosate biocide. This has led to different perspectives on restricted use. A significant factor in creating divergence, is the use of different dossiers of data, and differing interpretations of the data available, by international regulatory bodies and scientific committees. We consider it key that the UK secures an appropriate level of scientific influence in the work of EU agencies. This is especially important if the UK is to abide by EU decisions and rules going forward, such as rules on the classification and restriction of chemicals. The UK should seek to harmonise decisions on chemicals through a new deal as an ‘associate member’ of EU scientific agencies, with a view to facilitating frictionless and collaborative research, innovation and trade.
What we’re doing next
Our asks strongly align with those put forward by our colleagues in other organisations, such as the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society. As part of our work, we continue to work closely with other organisations to make sure that the voice of the science community is heard by negotiators on both sides.
We also continue to work with civil servants in relevant government departments to convey our asks, supported by evidence and perspectives across our wider community. I continue to represent the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal Society of Biology, the Council for Mathematical sciences and the Institute of Physics as part of the high level stakeholder working group on EU exit, universities, research and innovation. The Royal Society of Chemistry also continues to inform chemicals regulation as part of the UK Chemical Stakeholder Forum. Colleagues within the Royal Society of Chemistry engage on a regular basis with civil servants in key Government Departments to make sure that our community’s views are heard by UK government. Throughout the summer, we will continue to work closely with our partner organisations, our community and policy makers towards securing the best outcomes from the negotiations for our community.