The Draft Brexit Deal and Science

A draft Brexit deal detailing the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union has been agreed upon by Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet and now requires Parliament's approval.  The impact of the draft agreement on science is not fully known, but “science and innovation” are referenced as a “basis for cooperation” on which a future agreement will be developed, according to a report in Nature.

Under the current plan, visa-free travel may be possible for short visits to and from European Union (EU) member states.  This would be beneficial to researchers travelling for conferences and collaboration.  The draft agreement would also allow EU citizens currently living in the United Kingdom (UK), including researchers and their families, to claim permanent residence.  However, it is unclear if EU scientists would be able to work in the UK in the future.  Many other details of interest to the scientific community, including details about the UK’s future immigration policies and participation in major EU research-funding programs, have yet to be resolved.
Reports indicate that members of Parliament are divided over the draft deal, with Prime Minister May expecting a fight to get the agreement approved.  Support for the plan even within her Cabinet has weakened with two members resigning.  If the agreement is rejected by Parliament, the EU and UK will be forced to renegotiate new terms before the March 29, 2019 deadline when Britain is scheduled to leave the EU.
If no agreement is reached before Britain’s departure from the EU, UK scientists will lose access to three major funding streams under the EU’s Horizon 2020 research funding program that make up 45 percent of research funding received by UK organizations since 2014.  A no-deal Brexit might also mean uncertainty in the import and export of scientific supplies and equipment.  “It is time for an end to the uncertainty that has been damaging science and every other part of life in the UK,” said Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society in London.  “The threat of a chaotic no-deal Brexit cannot be considered an option.”
After the March 29 departure, Britain will enter a transition period that ends December 21, 2020.  If the agreement is approved, UK scientists will remain eligible for research grants under Horizon 2020 during the transition period until the program ends.  However, UK’s participation in the next EU funding program, Horizon 2021, will be determined in a later trade agreement after March 2019.
Once the draft Brexit deal is approved by the Parliament, it will be reviewed by the European Parliament and will require the approval of a majority of member states.  According to Beth Thompson, Head of UK and EU policy at the Wellcome Trust, if the deal is agreed to, the research community will need to push for an agreement on science as soon as possible.  “This could be an important early win for the UK and EU, whose ambitions for science are closely aligned.”

American Institute of Biological Sciences