A full damage limitation plan should have been drawn up months agoby Philip Ball / April 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
The cross-party House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) has just published its report on “Brexit, science and innovation.” It is a dispiriting, sometimes shocking, and, in a characteristically British way, rather angry document. The government, it implies, is failing dismally to safeguard British science against the perils of exiting the European Union.
The report makes little effort to hide its scepticism about Brexit and the government’s handling of it so far. “Six months ago, the government published its ‘future partnership’ paper on collaboration on science and innovation,” it says,
“but the document does not contain a great deal of detail. Since then, a range of ministerial speeches have reaffirmed the importance of ensuring science does not suffer as a result of Brexit. However, clarity over future access to funding, association with regulatory bodies, and immigration policies is required in order to provide certainty.”
In committee report-speak, this is strong stuff. It is saying that the time for puffed-up rhetoric and “wait and see” promises is over. “We do not accept that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ in this context,” the report states. “We recommend that the government make drafting and negotiating a science and innovation agreement an urgent priority.”
That earlier “future partnership” document, “Collaboration on Science and Innovation,” published last September, inspired no confidence. Its formula was depressingly familiar, stressing all the benefits of UK-EU collaboration that are precisely what are being put at risk by Brexit. “It is the UK’s ambition to build on its uniquely close relationship with the EU, so that collaboration on science and innovation is not only maintained, but strengthened,” it declared. How nice that would be—to find that by leaving the EU, scientific collaboration can be made even better!
Exactly how, though, will that remarkable feat be achieved? Even the government’s Interim Chief Scientific Adviser, epidemiologist Chris Whitty, admitted that the paper was “high on aspiration and a bit light on detail.” It declared that “The UK would like to explore forging a more ambitious and close partnership with the EU than any yet agreed between the EU and a non-EU country.” Almost like, perhaps, the kind of partnership that exists between actual member states?
There was, in truth, no indication in the government’s September paper of how we would be doing anything but trying to claw back some remnants…