Join the debate on how Brexit will affect science in the UK and beyond

Since the UK’s decision in a national referendum to leave the EU, Chemistry World readers have had their say on what this will mean for the chemical sciences.

Brexit protest – save our science

Source: © iStock

The Brexit result has triggered protests by scientists concerned about the UK leaving the EU

The topic has attracted impassioned opinion from both sides of the debate and raised a host of issues affecting scientists both in the UK and abroad.

Below, we present a selection of the latest letters we have received.

Science supports remain

In his recent letter, Ian Hatton raised the supposed lack of evidence in terms of the proportion of UK scientists voting ‘remain’ and then used his anecdotal experience to claim that the ‘vast majority’ of his contacts voted to leave.

Scientists for Britain (who campaigned to leave) quote two polls of UK research scientists, one by the Campaign for Science and Engineering with 93% supporting remain, and another by Nature with 83% (actually 80%, according to Nature) supporting remain. Scientists for Britain criticise the methodology of these polls but they certainly offer no support for the opposing view.

Another relevant poll is that of Conservative peer and Brexit supporter Lord Ashcroft. Of over 12,000 graduates, he found that 57% supported remain, rather more than the 48% in the country overall. Thus, Chemistry World has a factual, rather than an anecdotal, basis for assuming that a majority of scientists would have voted remain.

The other concerning feature of the letter is the data-free assertion that EU migrants are placing a ‘huge strain on infrastructure such housing, education and the NHS’. In fact, according to the Office for National Statistics, a significantly greater proportion of EU migrants is economically active (hence tax-paying) than of the indigenous population. Problems with housing, education and the NHS are rather more complex than implied by the Brexit campaign but the governments that allowed migration could and should have planned for this. The ageing population and austerity-driven cuts in social care are major factors in NHS problems.

Brexit campaigners claimed that Britain has to allow in migrants with criminal convictions. The relevant treaty ‘allows restrictions to be placed on the right of free movement and residence on grounds of…public security’. It’s up to the UK government to enforce this – but instead they have cut border force funding by 25% since 2012.

There have been many complaints by Brexit supporters at the criticism of their campaign but I would point out that they won. Get over it!

Les Hearn MRSC
London, UK

I felt it interesting to read Ian Hatton’s remarks on wanting a balanced opinion on Brexit coverage in the magazine while simultaneously adopting a thoroughly one-sided position himself. He states that the UK can decide its own priorities for funding distribution due to Brexit, but fails to acknowledge that it was never prevented from doing so in the first place. There are many institutions that receive both EU and UK funding through avenues such as research councils and Innovate UK, as well as other funding bodies from other countries (such as the Newton Fund).

Receiving EU funding does not prevent any research institution from applying for, or receiving, funding from any other bodies. Brexit, however, does threaten to close off an entire source of funding, to say nothing of the reduced opportunities for collaboration.

No Brexit politician ever made any such pledge that we can increase the money available to our own funding bodies; in fact, the one pledge on money saved that they did make was that it would all go to the NHS. With the limited information we have right now, this would suggest a huge hole in funding is coming our way.

If we are to look at Brexit with optimism for the sciences, it is imperative that we now hold our politicians to account and get them to spell out exactly what the funding and collaboration situations will be. If nothing else, this will allow us to plan for the future effectively. This is not pessimism, it is simply a realistic appraisal of the unknown situation we currently find ourselves in – to solve problems we must first acknowledge them, not take a rose-tinted approach of pretending they aren’t there.

Tom Dugmore AMRSC
York, UK

Hot air arguments

I am now fully retired, and have no real personal interest in the outcome of the UK’s EU referendum, but previous correspondents to Chemistry World seem to have drawn a dubious conclusion from the result. The major problem is that the question posed was generally interpreted as one which invited the choice between what we had up to then (membership of the EU), and something different (unspecified). All that was determined was that the majority of those voting wanted something different; they didn’t say what because they were not asked.

One of the major issues in the debate was immigration. The effect of net national migration is measured and forecast by national governments, which do much to predict the impact of such flows on infrastructure and, in conjunction with local authorities, provide funding and facilities. The UK government is quite good at this sort of thing.

In my view, much of the arguments around Brexit was just so much hot air. What was lacking was any sense of purpose or vision on either side. The net result is that 40 years of co-operative endeavour is now much closer to the waste paper basket. This makes me sad, because some of the work was mine and I didn’t get paid for it. Still, as one of the ‘experts’ of whom the UK has heard quite enough of, I suppose that is the reward I should have expected.

Peter Munn CChem MRSC
Hull, UK

Quite a Reach

As someone much-involved with the forerunner of the EU Reach regulations, I found Chemistry World’s view of the possible impact of Brexit rather negative.

In the UK we processed many notifications under the directives which drove the EU-wide testing and labelling scheme that existed prior to Reach. The production of dossiers was often in the hands of well-known UK contract houses, and checked for adequacy by chemists and toxicologists in government agencies. I would have thought it possible for these overall procedures to remain in place when we leave the EU. Some fine tuning may be required – but surely we will not need to reinvent the wheel.

John Davis FRSC
Harpenden, UK

Impact on visas

I have read the various articles in both the June and August editions of Chemistry World will great interest. Rightfully, these articles comment on the potential problems with academic funding and the impact of Brexit on industry. However, none of these articles comment on the potential effects on retired British citizens living abroad, especially those who have married a citizen from another EU member state.

I live permanently in Vilnius, Lithuania, and am married to my Lithuanian wife. I am concerned that, after the British government sign article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, they could impose visa requirements for EU nationals to visit the UK. If so, EU states will probably pose similar requirements. This could mean I would require a permanent visa to continue to live in my home. Conversely, if we decided to return to the UK, my wife would similarly require a visa.

Brexit can best be described as terrible and very poorly thought through. Already, I have lost around 20% of my British pensions because of the decrease in the Pound to Euro exchange rate.

I hope that we might see some articles in Chemistry World on this aspect in the very near future.

Mervyn Richardson EurChem CChem FRSC
Vilnius, Lithuania

Expat concerns

There is a great deal of concern in the scientific community – and quite rightly so – about the consequences of Brexit.

The decision will have an impact on UK science and participation in EU-funded programmes. A second concern is the ‘brain drain’ of non-British EU scientists, who may have no other choice but to return to their home countries if the free movement and right of abode regulations change as a result of the Article 50 negotiations.

Yet one group that seems to be forgotten are the British scientists working in the rest of the EU. They, too, are at the mercy of the Article 50 negotiations.

There are some whose jobs may disappear directly as a result of Brexit. There are others who will lose their right to live in EU member states as soon as their employment ends (such as when they retire), which will result in them being ignominiously expelled after many years of service.

The consequences of Brexit will be felt not only in the UK, but among British expats elsewhere in the EU.

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