Prime Minister begins to act on Dominic Cummings’ Brexit plan to make the UK a ‘science superpower’

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez August 9, 2019
Boris Johnson this week revealed plans to develop a new fast-track visa route for researchers and specialists in science, engineering and technology.

An image of Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week revealed plans to create a new fast-track visa route for “elite” researchers and specialists in science, engineering and technology. 

The plans are clearly an attempt to balance out any negative Brexit impact - particularly the anticipated ‘brain drain’ or talent loss. However, it’s also worth recognising that Boris Johnson’s plans closely echo those of his special adviser, Dominic Cummings, who has publicly stated he’d like to turn the UK into the “school of the world”, with a specific focus on science and education. 

Cummings was behind the Vote Leave campaign - the official campaign for promoting Brexit and the organisation responsible for the £350 million a week/NHS bus. 

We at diginomica/government recently outlined some of Cummings’ key themes from his public blogs, which could influence the government’s plans for Brexit (if his influence is to be believed. These include getting rid of centralised bureaucracy, increasing competition in government and greater use of data to drive policy. 

The new Brexit date is set for the end of October and the UK and EU seem to be stuck in a stalemate over negotiations, with it looking increasingly likely that we could end up in a no-deal scenario. 

Plans for immigration 

Johnson has this week instructed the Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to work with the scientific community to develop the new fast-track visa route for the “brightest and the best”. It is expected that it will launch later this year. 

The Prime Minister said: 

Britain has a proud history of innovation, with home-grown inventions spanning from the humble bicycle to the lightbulb.

We were home to the world’s first national DNA database, we discovered graphene, and our cutting-edge scientists should be proud to follow in the footsteps of titans like Ada Lovelace and Nobel Laureates Francis Crick and Peter Higgs.

But to ensure we continue to lead the way in the advancement of knowledge, we have to not only support the talent that we already have here, but also ensure our immigration system attracts the very best minds from around the world.

The Departments will focus on developing a system that will make it easier for people in the science field to come to the UK to live and work, even if they are at the very start of their career. 

Options currently being discussed include: 

  • abolishing the cap on numbers under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visas
  • expanding the pool of UK research institutes and universities able to endorse candidates
  • creating criteria that confer automatic endorsement, subject to immigration checks
  • ensuring dependents have full access to the labour market
  • removing the need to hold an offer of employment before arriving
  • accelerated path to settlement

The technology community in the UK have been calling for an overhaul of the visa system, particularly since Brexit, to allow for more talent to come and live and work in the country. 

The government has said that it will also provide additional funding for scientists and researchers who have sought EU funding before Brexit. Interestingly, this includes schemes delivered by the European Research Council to ensure “no-one is disadvantaged”. 

Equally, in the event of a no-deal scenario, the government will ensure any Horizon 2020 applications will be automatically reviewed by UKRI - with successful applications provided with funding. 

Boris Johnson said: 

I want the UK to continue to be a global science superpower, and when we leave the EU we will support science and research and ensure that, far from losing out, the scientific community has a huge opportunity to develop and export our innovation around the world.

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