British science’s largest lobbying campaign in years is under way. After the shock of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, anxious researchers are doing all they can to ensure that their interests are represented in Brexit negotiations. One big unanswered question is what role science will have in the new ‘Brexit ministry’ — the Department for Exiting the European Union (DEEU) — that has been expressly formed to take the country out of the EU.
Worried at the prospect of losing access to EU funding and collaborations, scientific societies have fired off numerous letters asking the government to keep their country in the EU’s research system, and warning of damage already caused by Brexit. An advocacy group, Scientists for EU, says it has gathered (in confidence) 25 cases of foreign scientists withdrawing job applications or being refused a UK post as a result of Brexit, 7 cases of someone in UK science leaving the country, and 33 of disruption to funding for the EU’s Horizon 2020 research-grants programme.
The government has indicated that it is listening to scientists — but seems reluctant to say so too loudly. On 18 July, Prime Minister Theresa May sent a letter to Paul Nurse, the director of London’s Francis Crick Institute, telling him that the government was committed to “ensuring a positive outcome for UK science” as the country exited the EU. But the letter — effectively May’s first statement on science — did not become public knowledge until science minister Jo Johnson referred to it in passing in a 25 July speech at the EuroScience Open Forum in Manchester, prompting journalists to press for a copy. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, the president of London’s Royal Society, said he welcomed the comments …