Debates between Lord Krebs and Lord West of Spithead during the 2017-2019 Parliament

Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration

Debate between Lord Krebs and Lord West of Spithead
Wednesday 5th December 2018

(5 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, as a career scientist I ask myself whether the Prime Minister’s deal is good or bad for UK science. Last Friday, the Science Minister, Sam Gyimah, gave his verdict when he resigned, saying that the deal would mean that the UK’s interests,

“will be repeatedly and permanently hammered by the EU 27 for many years to come”.

He recognised the gap between the warm and encouraging words of the political declaration and the harsh reality of negotiation over the years ahead.

The president of the Royal Society, commenting on the deal, put it this way:

“This is a step in the right direction but it will be a long hard road to reach a long-term agreement”.

The report that came out today from the European Union Select Committee also highlights in paragraph 199 that nothing is said in the deal about how we will reach future agreements on science and technology with the other member states.

The trigger event for the resignation of Sam Gyimah, as noble Lords will be aware, was the European Union 27 rejecting the UK’s bid to remain in Galileo. This is the European Union’s satellite navigation system that will serve as an alternative to the GPS system from the United States that we all use every day on our smartphones. Galileo, importantly, will give European Union member states access to high-resolution data that is crucially important in military security. We are now left out in the cold. Having spent £1.24 billion on Galileo, we are going to start all over again to build our own stand-alone system. This is lunacy.

Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab)
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Does the noble Lord not agree that this was a completely disgraceful and vindictive act, based on their claim that they cannot share sensitive intelligence with our nation, when on a daily basis we are giving sensitive intelligence to Europe and saving lives in Europe? Is this not a quite extraordinary decision?

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.