Press release

Brexit is an opportunity to forge a stronger European Research Area, according to new consultation

The European Research Area should be strengthened and broadened as part of the Brexit process, to increase scientific collaboration across member states and associated countries such as the UK, Norway and Switzerland, according to a new report from Wellcome.

The Building a Strong Future for European Science: Brexit and Beyond [PDF 641KB] report, based on consultations with over 200 UK and European scientists and policy makers, lays out the first concrete set of recommendations of how greater scientific collaboration could be achieved after Brexit.

It recommends a Brexit deal that:

  • Enables the UK to influence, pay into and access European research funding, as an associated country, like Norway, Switzerland and Israel
  • Aligns scientific research regulation between the UK and EU
  • Supports full researcher mobility between the UK and the European Economic Area (EEA), through a mutual, simple and quick approach that enables the scientific workforce and their families to move easily between countries

European nations have created a world-leading location for research and innovation. But in order to maintain this position after Brexit, Europe will need to adapt as the challenges, tools and global context of research change.

A positive Brexit deal for science would ensure the UK continues to benefit from research that improves people’s lives. This would enable cancer patients to continue participating in clinical trials for new treatments, as well as ensuring research on rare diseases – where more patients are needed than exist in the UK alone – remains possible.

A stronger European Research Area (ERA) would require greater investment and commitment from member states and associate countries outside of the EU. In return for continuing to pay in to the European research funding system, the UK and other associate countries should be given greater influence over the ERA.

The ERA is the most effective of all cross-border funding collaborations in the world; Europe produces a third of the world’s scientific publications with just seven per cent of the global population.  Bringing associated countries closer in this network, potentially with new countries further afield such as Canada, would make the European Research Area even stronger, helping it capitalise on the strengths and talents of a wider group of nations.

Economic modelling in the report demonstrates that even if the UK pays more than it receives to retain access to European funding, it will receive considerable benefits in the long run through jobs, new medical treatments and a strong university sector.  It shows that funding schemes that span national borders are much more productive, as they encourage collaboration and create bigger research networks, than countries individually funding research programmes.

A close, successful relationship would keep UK and EU regulations aligned, maintaining high standards of privacy, animal welfare and patient safety. It states that the UK can be proud to have built, with the EU, the strongest regulations for science in the world and working together can promote more responsible research across the globe.

Scientists and policy makers also stressed the importance of collaboration in science and ensuring that scientists can move easily between research institutions and countries, wherever they come from in the EU.

Wellcome is continuing discussions with other foundations and the European Commission about areas of shared interest. Wellcome will hold a series of meetings with young leaders in research around Europe to build further consensus on what is needed to deliver a strong future for European research and publish a review of regulatory opportunities that the UK should seize after Brexit, particularly in emerging technologies.

Eliza Manningham-Buller, Chair of Wellcome, said: "European science is a huge success story. A badly handled Brexit risks damaging British – and European - science. But with the right agreement, it’s possible we could maintain and even improve scientific collaboration with our European neighbours.  This will mean compromise on both sides, but the gains will be great too, with access to more clinical trials, data resources, and excellent funding opportunities.

"There is strong political support for a positive science deal across UK parties and across Europe. Making progress in this area where there is already agreement will get the best possible deal for UK science and  put us in a good position to negotiate the rest of the deal."

Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee which is holding a Brexit: Science and Innovation Summit today, said: "Effective science is founded on collaboration. UK labs are brimming with talent from different countries and scientific breakthroughs in this country often rely on information shared from abroad.

"Our Brexit: Science and Innovation summit, held today, will bring key players in the science and innovation sphere together to debate the many pressing challenges facing our sector. The Wellcome Trust’s Future Partnership Project report presents a much needed policy contribution to this debate, and one that I hope the Government will look at closely."