Do not close the door to foreign scientists after Brexit, warn MPs

Tom Peck
Oxford University is among many UK universities to have voiced concerns over loss of EU science research funding: Flickr/Tejvan Pettinger

Theresa May’s much-vaunted Industrial Strategy has not gone far enough to protect the UK’s science and research industry from the fallout of leaving the European Union.

A committee of MPs reports that foreign-born scientists must be allowed to continue to come to the UK after Brexit, and has warned the Government is must commit to making up any shortfall in EU research funding.

The Science and Technology Committee said that the industrial strategy should be going further in acknowledging and preparing for the ways in which leaving the EU will reshape the UK economy.

Committee chairman Stephen Metcalfe said: “Brexit will present opportunities and risks for our economy and for the science and innovation that supports it.

“A regulatory regime that is well-crafted and tuned to our post-Brexit international research and trading relationships – both with Europe and globally – will be essential.

“The Government has an opportunity to do more to strengthen the links between the industrial strategy and Brexit as the exit negotiations now get under way.

“That will be vitally important for keeping the Government's industrial strategy relevant and hooked-up to the opportunities presented by the evolving Brexit negotiations.”

The report welcomed measures – such as the new T-Level – to boost science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills.

But it added: “While increasing the STEM skills of our children and students will help meet the needs of the workplace in future, it is also important to make use of existing STEM skills wherever they can be found, including from overseas.”

The MPs also called for ministers to give a “firm commitment to EU researchers working and studying in the UK that they will continue to have a secure position here post-Brexit”.

As part of the industrial strategy, the Prime Minister announced increases in government investment worth £2bn per year by 2020 for research and development (R&D).

Tory MP Mr Metcalfe said: “The Government has significantly increased science funding, which will put us in a better position post-Brexit to attract skilled researchers and collaborative science projects.

“I want the Government to see that as an initial investment towards meeting a target – for the UK to be spending 3% of GDP on R&D – that our committee has repeatedly pushed for.

“While it is too soon to know whether Brexit will end up bringing less or more inward science investment to the UK in the long-term, the Government should be ready to make good any net shortfall in the short-term with further funding for science.”