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Pledge for science and farming offers stopgap not solution

by Rachel Franklin | 14.08.2016

Uncertainty has been one of the defining features of post-referendum Britain. So the Treasury’s commitment to continue funding for science projects agreed before this autumn and for farmers until 2020 is a step in the right direction. But it is still not good enough.

Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, has sounded the alarm over British scientists being “frozen out” of EU projects. There has also been anecdotal evidence of top foreign scientists turning down roles at UK universities.

With some estimates suggesting that Brexit will cost the sector in the region of £1bn per year, researchers will undoubtedly be pleased by Philip Hammond’s announcement. But it is only a short-term commitment, covering projects agreed before the autumn statement.

Britain’s farming community has also been quick to warn of the impact the referendum will have on UK agriculture, with farmers receiving an average of 55% of their income from EU funds. Farmers, too, are likely to welcome Hammond’s funding pledge, having urged the Treasury to ringfence £3bn annually to fill the post-Brexit funding gap.

But with farmers planning up to ten years in advance and funding only guaranteed for a few years, Britain’s farmers are still far from secure. Moreover, given Theresa May’s decision not to trigger Article 50 until next year, the UK looks set to leave the EU in 2019 at the earliest, so funding commitments until 2020 amount to only one extra year of security.

Meanwhile, the threats to science are not just financial. National academies representing science, medicine and engineering have warned that the government needs to protect access to research networks, not just funding streams.

Funding is no fix-all for farming either. One of its biggest challenges to staying in business remains access to temporary workers, on which there is still no clarity. Access to the single market is also crucial, with 63% of British agri-food exports going to EU member states. The UK’s future trading relationship with the EU remains a mystery.

At some point, the government needs to come up with long-term answers for these important industries – not just sticking plaster.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “Pledge for science and farming offers stopgap not solution”

  • Perhaps I’m missing something, but surely until 2019 we are full members of the EU and fully entitled to EU funds for science, the environment, regional development etc. So what is the government actually guaranteeing?