Cambridge receives 20% of their research funding from the EU. The situation is direr across the country, 18 institutions will have more than half their funding slashed if we exit the EU without a deal - a situation made possible by the current stance that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. For the next few years, there is going to be a discussion in Government, a discussion which will shape the future of scientific research in the UK. Disturbingly, Westminster has neglected to invite scientists.

There are no Chief Scientific advisors in both Brexit departments, advisors who provide evidence-based policies and inform ministers of possible scientific fallout on decisions.

This is even before we started to discuss the human side of the story, there are currently 31,000 (16%  university researchers) academics in the UK who are non-British EU citizens. In the labs I have visited and been part of in the UK, I would be suspicious if there were no foreign citizens. The truth is in academic research, Britain acts as a sink for research talent, the brain drain is real and we are the beneficiaries.

There were two new departments created in the cabinet reshuffle after David Cameron’s resignation, the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) and the Department of International Trade (DIT). The heavily publicised and criticised organisations responsible for a strong and stable transition from the EU. Organising Brexit is not the only thing these two departments have in common, they also have a glaring hole. They both have yet to hire a Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA).

The missing piecePIXABAY: SUCCO

These are the roles that CSAs play in each government department according to the website. Each role as important as the other, a spokesperson, an advisor and a scientist with the ear of the minister, one who will consider aspects of policy and funding with science and importantly for science. A job which is required to allow the transition from a country heavily reliant on EU funding to a country more self-sufficient.

Upon further probing on the issue of scientific advisors, Sir Mark Walport, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and head of the CSA network, has recently been promoted. He will be the head of the umbrella organisation UK Research and Innovation – a new public body in place of the current 7 research councils. These councils currently together have £3 billion budget and fund science as well as arts, economic and social research. The organisation will be created upon royal ascent of the Higher Education Bill 2017 which is currently being discussed between House of Lords and Commons.

So either by design or negligence, the head of the Government CSA is sidelined and there is no scientific voice in the Brexit departments where they are needed the most. Furthermore, it’s not just plugging the funding gap, international trade deals will also recognise patents and levels of environment protection. Yet at the roundtable where these deals are being discussed, scientists have not been given a seat.

Science and government is an important part of the conversation in the run-up to the General Election here in Cambridge, I approached both Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat) and Daniel Zeichner (Labour) to comment on the situation.

I approached both Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat) and Daniel Zeichner (Labour) to comment on the situation.

Daniel Zeichner expressed his dismay, “I have been urging them to wake up to the reality. Sadly, the Prime Minister has closed ears - which is why we need Keir Starmer leading for Britain in these negotiations because he really does understand the needs of our scientists and researchers”.

Julian Huppert had similar sentiments, “Governments and politicians have too often ignored science and all forms of evidence-informed decision making”. Historically there have been comical incidents when science has been ignored in government. Julian points out, for example, how “Labour at one point proposed banning the sale of coffee or tea”.

Post-Brexit, many of our scientific institutes in Cambridge require the stability and open trade deals which allow them to prosper. Institutions which Daniel Zeichner has tried to protect “raising the concerns of the world-leading Sanger Institute to direct with Brexit Minister David Davies”.

Previously as only one of two MPs with a science Ph.D., Julian has been pushing for science-based policy since he got into government, in 2011 he successfully “pushed for every department to have a CSA”. Previously they were only allowed in the Ministry of Defence and Energy depending on the party in power. Unfortunately, it seems the current government has found a loophole to his efforts.

Science deserves a voice in a system where billions of tax payer’s money are being spent.

Science deserves a voice in a system where billions of tax payers’ money are being spent to inform ministers of the fallout resulting from decisions made in the coming Brexit transition years. No wonder the scientific community is frustrated and scared, they are being restricted in direct contradiction of everything they believe – if we don’t like the facts, we don’t want to hear them

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