Prime Minister Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May. Credit: Andrew Parsons/i-Images

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May made a speech outlining her Government’s 12 objectives for the negotiation of the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU).

They include a specific objective to maintain the UK’s leadership in science and innovation. The Prime Minister also clearly stated that the UK will need to continue to attract the best and the brightest talent to the UK.

This speech was the clearest statement yet of what the UK intends to prioritise and achieve from its negotiations with EU partners.

What are the implications for science and innovation?

The EU currently plays a key role in UK science, and the UK has played a leading role in EU science. In her speech, Theresa May clearly stated:

‘We will welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives, for example in space exploration, clean energy and medical technologies.’

The Society has welcomed this commitment; now attention turns to how it will be achieved.

The Society published three reports before the referendum, setting out the role of the EU in UK science. The UK is currently a full member of the EU’s flagship research programme, Horizon 2020. UK researchers participate in, and are eligible to apply for funding through its programmes, such as the European Research Council (ERC) and the Marie Słodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA).

Theresa May did not provide details but the possibility of the UK making specific financial contributions in order to participate in particular programmes, such as Horizon 2020, was left open. It is not clear what the terms of any such participation might look like. We outlined how a number of non-EU countries engage in Horizon 2020 in our report on the role of EU funding in UK science.

Research is a global endeavour, and the UK’s immigration policy is therefore crucial to the success of UK science. Theresa May confirmed that the UK will pursue controls on immigration from the EU. However, she also made clear that the UK will always want to attract the brightest and the best to work and study in the UK. Theresa May did not provide detail, but in theory, this should allow science and innovation to access the people it needs.

The news on regulation was clear. EU law which currently applies to the UK (and other EU member states) will become UK law immediately after the UK leaves the European Union. Any subsequent changes will be agreed through normal parliamentary process. A wide range of EU regulations and policies govern UK research, but their content is not set to change in the short term.

What were the other big announcements in the speech?

The Prime Minister announced that the UK will not seek to be part of the Single Market in its negotiations with the EU. Instead, it will seek a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, and a bespoke arrangement with the Customs Union. It will also pursue Free Trade Agreements with other global partners.

The Prime Minister wants to implement controls on EU migration. She is also keen to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in other EU member states.

We also heard that UK Parliament will have a final say on the agreed deal for the UK’s departure from the European Union.

12 principles for negotiation

Theresa May’s 12 negotiation objectives are to:

  1. Provide as much certainty and clarity as possible throughout the process;
  2. Take control of UK laws, leaving the jurisdiction of the European Courts of Justice;
  3. Maintain unity between the four nations in the UK;
  4. Protect the common travel area between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland;
  5. Control immigration from the EU;
  6. Protect the rights of EEA nationals who are already in the UK and seek reciprocal arrangements for Britons living in other EU member states;
  7. Protect, and building on, workers’ rights;
  8. Leave the single market, but agree the greatest possible access to it through a comprehensive free trade deal with the EU;
  9. Be a global trading nation, and make free trade agreements with other countries;
  10. Be a leader in science and innovation.
  11. Continue to cooperate on crime, terrorism and security;
  12. Enter into new arrangements with the EU through a phased implementation process.

Deal or no deal?

Theresa May has indicated that she will trigger Article 50, the UK’s formal notification to leave the European Union, by the end of March 2017. This will be followed by the start of negotiations between the UK and the EU on the terms of their future relationship. Whilst setting out the UK’s objectives for negotiation, Theresa May was keen to emphasise was that ‘no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain’.

The Royal Society is working to ensure the best possible outcome for science from the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. We have blogged about the Treasury’s announcement to underwrite funds awarded to UK researchers whilst the UK is a member of the EU, and about Brexit and the international mobility of scientists. We will be working on the topics of funding, mobility and collaboration and regulation, and continuing to blog as the issues develop.

Find out more about the Royal Society’s work on Brexit and UK science.