Norman Lamb MP: Don’t let science suffer as collateral damage in Brexit negotiations
Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, writes ahead of today’s debate on science and Brexit. He calls for new rules to support skilled immigration and progress on a pact to ward off the effects on science of a ‘no deal’ scenario.
The Government has some big-ticket Brexit problems to deal with—the Irish border, the fierce debate over a ‘common rule book’, and our future trading relationship with the EU, to name just a few. But as the Government steers the Brexit ship, it mustn’t forget that there is important cargo on board.
One of the great strengths of the UK is science and innovation. This country is home to four of the world’s top ten universities and has more Nobel Laureates than any country outside the United States. The UK is second only to Germany in the proportion of funding it wins from EU framework programmes—over 15% of the total pot. We are a science superpower, with an outstanding reputation for excellence and international collaboration.
We’ve heard the Government say that it intends to secure a ‘far reaching’ accord on science and innovation. That sounds great, but where is it? The Science and Technology Committee recommended in March that agreeing an early deal could set a positive tone for the rest of the negotiations—cooperating on science is a ‘win-win’ for the UK and the EU, so this is hardly the trickiest problem on the list.
And yet the Government’s ‘technical notes’ released recently confirm just how badly science needs a robust pact of its own if we run into a ‘no-deal’ scenario. The campaign group Scientists for EU has calculated that the UK stands to lose half a billion pounds a year in a no-deal scenario based on the warnings in the Government’s note, due to being ineligible to receive certain kinds of EU funding including European Research Council grants.
In today’s House of Commons debate, I want to get answers from the Science Minister on whether an accord on science and innovation is going to be struck, and whether the groundwork can be laid so that we can keep vital science collaboration afloat in a no-deal scenario. I also want to hear about whether he is making progress to strike a deal on participation in Horizon Europe—the 100 billion euro programme that will replace Horizon 2020. The Minister has previously said that the UK should have a suitable level of influence in the programme, but the science and innovation community needs urgent clarity on this point. The time for prevaricating is over.
Meanwhile, we’re also no clearer on what a new immigration system for skilled EEA nationals will look like after the planned transition period. Before the summer recess, my Committee decided to roll up its sleeves and produce its own proposals for an immigration system that works for science and innovation.
They include a five-year skilled work permit for those with a suitable offer of employment, and reinstating the post-study work visa so that talented international students can start to use their new skills here. I hope today that we’ll get some positive engagement on those recommendations.
History will judge the Science Minister’s stewardship of research and innovation in this challenging time. He might not be the Captain of the ship, but he can play his part in preparing the lifeboats to protect the priceless gems on board.
Norman Lamb is the Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk