Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration

Debate between Lord Krebs and Lord Vinson
Wednesday 5th December 2018

(5 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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I agree that it is an extraordinary decision but, as I am saying, it reflects the difficulty of the future negotiations. This outcome undermines the Prime Minister’s hope that the UK,

“would like the option to fully associate ourselves with the excellence-based European science and innovation programmes—including the successor to Horizon 2020 and Euratom”.

Galileo is only one example of how our science and technology could suffer in future. In a recent survey of 1,000 staff at the Francis Crick Institute, Europe’s largest biomedical research institute, scientists were overwhelmingly negative about the consequences of Brexit for UK science. On 23 October, 29 Nobel prize winners and six Fields medallists—the maths equivalent of a Nobel—wrote to the Prime Minister expressing their deep concerns. The deal simply does not do enough to reassure the scientific community.

In my own university, Oxford, roughly 12% of research funding comes from the EU, and there is no guarantee that in future we will be able to participate in the schemes that follow on from Horizon 2020. In the European Research Council funding programme, which is based on scientific excellence, the UK is far and away the most successful country in the EU, and the top three institutions in the EU for receiving funds under this scheme are Cambridge, Oxford and UCL.

Lord Vinson Portrait Lord Vinson (Con)
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My Lords, is it not in fact true that our annual contribution to the EU is merely recycled and comes back to our science and other bodies, so moneys should still be available?

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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I thank the noble Lord for that because it anticipates my next paragraph. The UK gets out more than 1.5 times as much as we pay in, so our return on investment is stupendous. But it is not just about money; it is the exchange of people and ideas that will be lost if we cannot remain in these European programmes.

Noble Lords might ask: why does the science base in this country matter? The reason is that it is the basis of our future prosperity. As the Prime Minister herself put it in introducing the industrial strategy:

“That is what our modern Industrial Strategy is all about. Investing in science and research to keep us at the forefront of new technologies and the benefits they bring”.

So, whether you are thinking of new medical treatments, novel sources of energy, transport or tackling climate change, all of that will depend in future on our investment in science and on the international nature of our science.

I know that the Minister will not be able to provide us with any reassurance about the future because, as other noble Lords have said, the future is quite uncertain—but perhaps he could tell us what assessment the Government have made of the impact of the deal that is on the table on the future prospects for UK science. Some have said, “Why worry about the EU, because, after all, we can collaborate with other countries?”—but it is not either/or. In my own scientific career I have done research in German, French and Dutch laboratories as well as in the United States and Canada, so it is not as if we are constrained from international collaboration outside the European Union by our membership of EU research programmes.

I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what evidence he has to support the notion that this deal will be good for UK science. Perhaps he could also tell us what the go-it-alone replacement for Galileo will cost and how those costs compare with working within the European Union. As things stand, I do not see enough in the deal on the table that will support the future of UK science and technology for me to think that it is a satisfactory deal—which is why I will support the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon.