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What does Brexit mean for science?

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What does Brexit mean for science?

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Britain’s exit from the European Union could have long-term implications for science, research and high tech engineering in the UK and Europe, as the community has close ties across borders both in terms of financial support and professional interaction.

An estimated 7,000 research projects with European Union financing are underway in the UK, according to calculations made by Euronews.

We spoke to some leading voices to hear their view on what Brexit means for them.

From the academic camp many were disappointed but resilient in the face of change. Jason Hall-Spencer, Professor of Marine Biology at Plymouth University said: “UK scientists have built strong relationships thanks to EU projects, and those friendships and ties will not disappear.”

“We are not waving good bye to EU scientific collaborations, we are beginning a new chapter,” he told Euronews, a sentiment echoed by his neighbours at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who told us: “For now, the response to Brexit with regard to science must be business as usual.”

“I can’t see this as being anything other than bad news,” said Paul Bates, Professor of Geographical Science at the University of Bristol, “because it will make the UK a less attractive place for European and overseas students”.

Dr Andrew Sheperd, Professor of Earth Observation at the University of Leeds highlighted one of the strongest messages from many science commentators – that working together gets the best results: “The union of European states has been a powerful force for good and for progress, and many of the achievements it has made possible could not have been accomplished by nations alone.”

“For the UK to maintain its leadership in climate science we must continue to work closely with our partners in Europe,” Sheperd told Euronews.
Professor Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the UK’s national academy of science, The Royal Society, said that EU funding to UK science has been an ‘essential supplement to UK research funds’, and called for upcoming post-Brexit negotiations to ensure that research is not left ‘short changed’.

The aerospace sector
Britain is a prominent player in the aerospace sector, and there are many who expect that to continue under Brexit. An official from the European Space Agency underlined to Euronews that “The UK is still part of ESA, there’s no issue on that”. ESA’s status as an international organisation independent of the EU means it also has members who are not in the Union, such as Switzerland and Norway.

The European Southern Observatory warned that the “impact of this process on the European research landscape will take many years to become clear.”

Dr. Jean-Noël Thépaut, a Euronews contributor and Head of the Copernicus Climate Change Service at the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasting in Reading, England, said “We trust that the spirit of collaboration which is the essence of ECMWF will continue notwithstanding the UK being out of the EU.”

The German space agency DLR echoed the sentiment from some scientists, telling Euronews:

“Generally, science has often proven to overcome national boundaries and borders more easily than politics or economics.”

However the view from the business end of the aerospace sector was more pointed and critical. Airbus Group’s CEO Tom Enders didn’t pull any punches:

“This is a lose-lose ‎result for both, Britain and Europe,” he said.
The aerospace giant has a large presence in many large towns in Britain, including Bristol, Stevenage, and Chester.

“I hope the divorce will proceed with a view on minimizing economic damage to all impacted by the Brexit. Britain will suffer, but I’m sure it will ‎focus even more now on the competitiveness of its economy vis-a-vis the EU and the world at large. But of course we will review our U.K. investment strategy, like everybody else will,” Enders concluded.

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