'No deal' poses a great risk to our chemistry community, which:
- supports a manufacturing sector worth £60bn a year and supports 500,000 jobs
- hires 22% of its academic staff from the EU
- receives 23p in every £1 of its university funding from the EU, amounting to £55m per year
- collaborates internationally, particularly through the well-regarded EU programmes for Science and Innovation
- sends over half of chemicals sector exports to the EU
- relies on being able to hire scientists with the right specialist knowledge from across the EU and the world to make discoveries that improve our lives
The consequences for funding and collaboration
As we have already stated, in a 'no deal' scenario, UK science would likely be unable to continue participating in EU programmes. Aside from the funding provided to UK science and start-ups, these programmes have a range of less tangible benefits for UK science, including giving access to international networks and facilities for collaboration. We have illustrated this with a report and case studies, for example PharmaSea, an international collaboration led by Aberdeen University that is advancing treatments for conditions including Alzheimer’s and epilepsy, whilst informing global policy on marine biodiversity.
Whilst the Government's commitment to underwrite funding to the end of 2020 in a 'no deal' scenario is welcome, this is a short-term measure. It will not replace access to prestigious programmes, international networks and exchanges of people and knowledge. In short, the UK will no longer be playing in the UEFA Champions League of European science, a league it has so far dominated. Add this to planned changes to immigration rules and science jobs in the UK will become less and less attractive to the international scientists we need.
The consequences for mobility
The UK Government, rightly, has committed to permitting resident status to all EU and EEA citizens currently living in the UK (subject to certain conditions) and EU member states are also starting to reciprocate, 'no deal' or otherwise. This is excellent news for all scientists and researchers and we hope all governments involved will follow through on their pledge.
But the risks of 'no deal' remain. It is not clear what immigration system would be in place in a 'no deal' scenario but expanding the current non-EU system to cover EU citizens would extend the scope of a system that is not fit for purpose in science to cover more workers. This could mean many SMEs are forced to choose between getting to grips with a complicated and costly system or missing opportunities for innovation. Using this system under these uncertain conditions will also likely limit access to the necessary talent as scientists and researchers from overseas look elsewhere to further their careers. This would result in a loss for UK science and its global reputation.
Equally as important, if UK scientists require visas to work or study abroad, there is a serious risk of a reduced role in an increasingly collaborative international community, meaning reduced access to scientific peers, mentors and state-of-the-art facilities abroad, as well as fewer opportunities to bring knowledge back to the UK science community. Science is a global pursuit and it is vital that Governments' policies enable easy mobility for scientists, so they can do great science that benefits current and future generations.
What seems certain in a 'no deal' scenario, however, is that the UK would soon lose its status as the place to be for scientists and innovators.
The consequences for regulations
Scientific collaboration is also at the heart of good chemicals regulation: it gives decision-makers the best information on the impacts of chemicals on health and the environment, which they can then balance with economic and other factors. In the event of 'no deal', UK decision-makers could quickly lose access to EU networks and databases that provide this information. They – and chemical producers in the UK – could face a difficult choice between becoming 'rule takers' with no influence over EU rules or losing access to their biggest market.
If the deal in the Withdrawal Agreement were accepted, the UK chemicals sector will still become EU rule takers during the transition period and potentially beyond. Our view is that the UK must keep as close as possible to the EU regulatory system and maintain a deep relationship with EU scientific bodies such as the European Chemicals Agency, so it can continue to share and discuss the underpinning science and its consequences. In a 'no deal' situation, this is all but impossible to achieve. Science should be at the heart of the future relationship with the EU but it must also be at the heart of how the UK withdraws from it.
The industrial costs
There is significant risk to the chemical manufacturing sector and the 500,000 jobs it supports. According to HMRC, in 2017 it exported over £27bn (54% of its total) worth of chemical products to the EU. New tariffs under WTO rules, extra administrative costs, delays at ports or ensuing loss of trade all threaten to add extra costs to business if there were no agreed trade procedures with the EU.
'No deal' not an option
'No deal' damages the UK’s reputation, influence and status as a world leader in science and innovation. Access to funding, access to talent, shared regulations are all interlinked. They help to establish trust in partners, facilitate collaboration and enable our Chemistry Community to make its best contribution to the economy and society. They enable faster advances in technology, medicine and environmental sustainability, to name just a few areas.
The Government's own scenario assessment shows that 'no deal' is the worst possible outcome for the UK economy as a whole. Here is what chemical sciences needs, but 'no deal' is not an option for UK chemical sciences.