INSIGHTS | POLICY FORUM
ment, along with EU students’ rights to
live and work in the United Kingdom, with
access to schemes such as those provided
by the European Research Council, Marie
Skłodowska-Curie actions, and Erasmus+.
3. Regulations. A key area for the life sciences, focus is needed on regulations for
the development and use of products for
human and animal health. Although some
have argued that the United Kingdom could
develop lighter, more permissive regulations
“unshackled” from the European Union, others have rightly emphasized the dangers of a
regulatory rift between the United Kingdom
and European Union, a point also recently
made by the Japanese government letter to
the United Kingdom and European Union.
Discussions are under way between the
EMA and the U.K.’s Medicines and Health-care Products Regulatory Agency to preserve
their regulatory links, even as the EMA inevitably leaves London, with its 890 staff and
with damaging consequences for the pharmaceutical industry in the United Kingdom.
The most efficient path at this stage is to
preserve EU regulations for as long as possible, with mechanisms to ensure harmonization as the European Union implements
changes. However, there may be opportunities to test alternative regulations. Genetic
modification is one target. This should be
seen not as the United Kingdom undercutting its European partners, but as providing a testing ground where new regulations
could be evaluated. Innovative U.K. regulations would serve as an evidenced-based pilot study to inform EU regulations.
4. Intellectual property (IP). The United
Kingdom and European Union should both
benefit from completing current IP developments, which should be preserved. The
unitary patent (UP) and unified patent court
(UPC) are approaching completion. Despite its commitment to leave the European
Union, the United Kingdom has ratified the
UPC agreement, and it has been agreed that
the court section specializing in pharmaceuticals will be in London. It remains to be seen
whether this will survive Brexit, especially as
it will involve payments by the United Kingdom into the EU budget and acceptance that
the UPC will be under the jurisdiction of the
European Court of Justice, both things that
supporters of a “hard” Brexit reject. There is
a danger that the United Kingdom will lose
any influence on developments in areas such
as the regulation of text and data mining,
where it has played a leading role ( 14).
5. EU collaboration. The U.K. contributes
12% of the EU science budget, but wins 16%
of the value of grants. The United Kingdom
also draws a large share of research talent via
prestigious EU mechanisms, winning 20 to
25% of placements ( 15). Like other western
European countries, it compensates by being
a net contributor to the EU budget—funds
that are used, in part, to build research ca-
pacity in lower-income EU countries. Science
partnership also cannot be divorced from the
freedom of movement issue, which could be-
come an impasse. Switzerland was in delicate
negotiations with the European Union over
access to Horizon 2020, given its own 2014
referendum in which the Swiss voted to re-
strict immigration from the European Union,
a decision that has now been reversed. It is
in the interests of the United Kingdom to
negotiate for maximum access, but a govern-
ment placing restrictions on immigration
may have to accept only partial access, as in
Switzerland. Although it may be possible to
create some alternative mechanisms, these
will likely fall short of the well-functioning
system that currently exists, with potential
disruptions for academic networks.
6. Policy. When the United Kingdom leaves
the European Union, it will lose its influence on EU science policy—in areas ranging
from the direction of the science program
to regulations, academic standards, and the
technical regulations of the Single Market.
The sheer size and prominence of the European Union has enabled it to multiply the
impact of U.K. science in the wider world.
The United Kingdom must develop a task
force to reassess its science policy role in
the world. Responsibility in this area would
fall to the new national body, U.K. Research
and Innovation (UKRI), which will combine
the U.K. Research Councils and the government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.
7. Business investments. Many technology
start-ups feed off a mix of EU grants, EU
and U.K. public funding streams, loans, and
venture capital. The last of these is substantially leveraged by public funding. There are
myriad European Union–based mechanisms
that bring funds into small private companies in the United Kingdom, including Horizon 2020; the Regional Development Fund;
European Social Fund; European Fund for
Strategic Investment (EFSI, also known as
the “Juncker plan”); European Investment
Bank; and European Investment Fund, with
overlaps between them.
The United Kingdom is the leading benefi-
ciary of the new EFSI, receiving €2.4 billion
(U.S. $2.55 billion) in infrastructure financ-
ing and €594 million (U.S. $631.2 million) for
small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs),
which are expected to trigger € 14. 4 billion
(U.S. $15.3 billion) in private investments
and to create > 26,700 infrastructure jobs and
benefiting nearly 3000 SMEs ( 16). If these
mechanisms no longer exist, will the United
Kingdom have the capacity to fill the gap?
8. Monitoring. Government and organizations in both the public and private sector
should monitor and report on key indicators
of the health of U.K. science and innovation.
These indicators include the application
and success rates on EU grants, the flows
of students and researchers, SME business
registrations, public and private investment
into the U.K. innovation landscape, and indicators of U.K. science’s ability to attract
The EU referendum vote has major implications for the future of U.K. science in the
world. The United Kingdom should continue
to build bilateral partnerships around the
globe, as it always has, but focus on healing
its relationship with its closest neighbors.
The U.K. government must find ways to minimize the damage caused by Brexit and, building on its highly successful relationship with
the EU, maximize future benefits for all. j
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We thank C. Dye for the discussion that led to this paper.