UK seeks “ambitious agreement” with EU on future innovation research

SUMMARY:

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, an area it wants to maintain close ties is within science and innovation research.

The UK has began laying out it’s plans for its departure from the European Union in a series of Brexit papers, that so far have covered topics that include data protection and the prospect of a new customs system. The papers give some insight into the UK’s ambitions for a future relationship with the EU, as it heads for Brexit in 2019.

The latest discussion paper lays out the UK’s hopes for an “ambitious agreement” with the EU that will ensure continued science and innovation research, after the UK leaves the trading bloc. The UK contributes heavily to the EU’s current science and innovation research programmes and it hopes that it will be able to continue to do so, given the close regulatory alignment at the point of exit.

It notes that “science and innovation are vital to a country’s prosperity, security and wellbeing”. There are existing agreements between the EU and non-EU countries, but the UK wants to create a new agreement that takes this even further.

Much of the ambitions in the paper, as in the others released to date, rest on the hope that because the UK has close alignment with the EU on regulation, given it is still a member state, that it will be able to strike deals that better those that have currently been agreed with non-EU countries.

Secretary of State David Davis said:

As the Prime Minister set out in her Lancaster House speech, a global Britain must be a country that looks to the future. That means being one of the best places in the word for science and innovation.

This paper sends a clear message to the research and innovation community that we value their work and we feel it is crucial that we maintain collaboration with our European partners after we exit.

We want to attract the brightest minds to the UK to build on the already great work being done across the country to ensure that our future is bright and we grow this important sector.

Skills a concern

The paper is published a day after a document was leaked to the Guardian, outlining the government’s plans for immigration after it leaves the European Union. The plans essentially show that the government is committed to ending the free movement of people from across the EU into the UK, and that it could tax businesses that choose to employ EU workers, if they cannot prove that British citizens could be hired or trained. This is particularly relevant to companies hiring for low-skilled jobs.

However, the government has said that it is committed to ensuring that the UK is an attractive destination for European residents with high value skills. The science and innovation document published today addresses this exact point. It states:

In particular, the UK and the EU must ensure that their research communities can continue to access the high-level skills that support innovation in science and technology. The Government has made clear that, although freedom of movement will cease to apply in the UK, the UK will continue to welcome the brightest and best, and as such, migration between the UK and the EU will continue after the UK leaves the EU.

This Government wants the UK to remain a hub for international talent and its departure from the EU must be seen in this context. For instance, the UK is seeking to agree a continued system for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

The UK will discuss with the EU future arrangements to facilitate the mobility of researchers engaged in cross-border collaboration

Examples of continued participation

As noted above, the UK wants to reach a new agreement with the EU that betters those existing ones made with countries that are outside of the trading bloc e.g. the United States and Canada. It states:

The UK and the EU start from a position of close regulatory alignment, trust in one another’s institutions, and a spirit of cooperation stretching back decades. The agreement on science and innovation should provide a framework for future cooperation, with channels for regular dialogue between leading researchers and innovators in the UK and the EU.

However, ultimately, the UK may well have to participate in programmes on the EU’s terms, if it doesn’t manage to strike a unique deal. The latest document outlines examples of programmes that the UK may be involved in post-Brexit, which currently include countries outside of the European Union.

The existing arrangements made with outside countries vary in their scope of access and influence, and any future terms agreed between the UK and member states will include the size of the financial contribution, which the UK has said it “would need to weigh against other spending priorities”.

The most notable programme that exists today, is likely to be the research and innovation framework Horizon 2020, which has seen nearly €80 billion of funding available over seven years (2014 to 2020).

Horizon 2020 facilitates researcher collaboration with an emphasis on excellent science, industrial leadership and tackling societal challenges. Horizon 2020 provides grant support along the entire research and development chain, from groundbreaking research to close-to-market activity. Horizon 2020 awards funding based on excellence and competition.

For non-EU countries currently participating in Horizon 2020, they do so through either associated country status or with automatic third country status. Currently, associated countries have the same level of access to Horizon 2020 as EU Member States. Associated countries do not have a formal vote over the work programme, but can attend programme committees, which provides them with a degree of influence.

Terms of association (including financial contributions) vary, and are determined by international agreements with the EU. All third countries without formal associate status can participate in specific parts of the programme, with some restrictions. Apart from a few exceptions, these third countries are not eligible for EU funding and usually fund their own participation.

Horizon 2020 is just one programme of many that the UK will have to agree terms with the EU over future engagement.

However, there are also international (non-EU) organisations that collaborate with the EU on research and innovation, which the UK has said it will continue to contribute towards. For example, EUREKA, an intergovernmental network, that helps mostly small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) across Europe and around the world to work together on R&D across borders, with the aim of bringing innovative ideas to market.

Science Minister Jo Johnson, expressed his desire to strike a successful future deal with the EU. He said:

From space exploration and developing better and safer medicines, to nuclear fusion research, the UK and Europe has a long history of close collaboration to meet the world’s great challenges. It’s in our mutual benefit to maintain this successful partnership, and this paper clearly outlines our desire to have a full and open discussion with the EU to shape our joint future.

With science and innovation at the heart of our Industrial Strategy and our additional investment of £4.7 billion for research and development, we are ensuring we are best placed to continue being at the forefront of new discoveries, and look forward to continuing that journey with the best minds across Europe.

My take

This is one of those areas where the UK and the EU should put their political bickering aside, given the benefits that could be achieved from continued collaboration and support. Science and innovation research has an impact on society as a whole – particularly as it relates to health and medical research – and the only ones that will lose out from a poor deal being struck are citizens both in the UK and Europe.

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