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Science

How Brexit could harm science

UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation after the result of the plebiscite

Tom Evans / Crown Copyright / FlickrUK Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation after the result of the plebisciteTom Evans / Crown Copyright / Flickr

The outcome of the June 24, 2016 plebiscite in which the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union (EU) has caused consternation in the British scientific community. No one really yet knows how the decision will affect research there, but specialists caution that the participation of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) in scientific collaborations with EU countries will be in jeopardy. The future of the Horizon 2020 program, Europe’s largest research and innovation program, which began in 2007 at a cost of €80 billion (roughly R$300 billion), is uncertain. EU member country consortia may appeal. John Womersley, director of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, tells the journal Nature that British scientists are seeking assurances that they will not be excluded from Horizon 2020. Anne Glover, Scottish researcher and Chief Scientific Advisor to the European Commission from 2012 to 2014, tells the journal Science “I know researchers who just sent proposals to Horizon 2020.” “What I’m assuming is that we can continue to apply and could be awarded a program as long as the start date was before the formal date of our Brexit,” she says. According to Glover, the results of UK membership in the EU have been positive for science. Glover mentions funds invested and received in Framework Program 7, the predecessor of Horizon 2020. “We contributed €5.4 billion [R$20 billion] over seven years, but we received €8.8 billion [R$32.7 billion] in return.” Roughly 16% of funding for British universities comes from European Union entities. Researcher mobility is an ongoing concern. In a communiqué, Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, says: “One of the great strengths of British research has been its international nature. Any curb on the free movement of people and ideas could seriously harm UK science.”

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