UK scientists are appalled at the havoc Brexit will wreak

by Quentin Peel | 23.10.2018

The profoundly pessimistic views on Brexit revealed by an internal survey of more than 1,000 scientists at the Francis Crick Institute in London should come as no surprise to anyone who has heard the frustration and despair felt by leading researchers in the UK since the referendum vote. Yet up till now their plight seems to have registered very little in the chaotic infighting that has dominated the government’s attempts to negotiate its way out of the Brexit dead end in Brussels.

In its gleaming new building opposite St Pancras station, right beside the British Library, the Crick is the biggest biomedical research laboratory under one roof in Europe, a cutting-edge joint venture of six institutions that has attracted the best and brightest from the rest of the world. It is the premier UK centre for biomedical science. More than 60% of its laboratory scientists come from the rest of the world, more than 40% from the other member states of the EU.

Over 1,000 scientists took part in the survey (three quarters of the staff), and 97% said Brexit would be “bad for UK science” and “bad for the Crick”. Just 3% thought the scientific community was being listened to, and only 4% thought the government was committed to getting a good deal for science. Even if it is not wholly true, that perception confirms the hopeless state of government communications.

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What was most striking was the sense of destabilisation revealed by the survey. Only 10% of the scientists expressed confidence in the future of UK science. Only 4% are confident in the future of science funding, and only 7% trust the UK’s ability to attract the best talent after Brexit. As a result, half of all the scientists say they are less likely to stay in the UK, half say they are most likely to move elsewhere in the EU, and a quarter to other countries, such as the US. Of those coming from other EU countries, 78% said they were less likely to stay in the UK after Brexit.

Paul Nurse, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist and director of the Crick, is clearly appalled at the looming disaster. He thinks that the scientific establishment has been too quiet for too long. A hard Brexit could “cripple” UK science, he says, and the government “needs to sit up and listen.”

“I can’t tell you how depressed our young scientists are about the messages coming out of government,” he told Sam Gyimah, universities minister, on the BBC Today programme. The minister could only splutter the tired old answer that he couldn’t reveal details of negotiations. That is a shocking abdication of responsibility.

Students, young scientists, and learned professors were all out on the march for a People’s Vote last Saturday. They are virtually unanimous in their belief that their life’s work, and their livelihoods, are threatened by Brexit: not just the fear of no deal, but any sort of hard Brexit as favoured by the hard-line Brexiters. For how much longer will Theresa May continue to ignore the devastation that her Brexit strategy is wreaking on the most successful parts of the British economy? That is why we need a People’s Vote.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “UK scientists are appalled at the havoc Brexit will wreak”

  • THE WORST FEATURE of this Brexit campaign has been the “We’ve all had enough of experts” byword which, in one sentence, demolished the basis for all education and academic research to justify the Populist cause.
    Are we back to the burning of books eras of the past? The English Daesh?