On Thursday last week the UK electorate voted for the country to leave the European Union (EU). There are wide-ranging implications now for the UK and no one can say for certain what the longer-term outcomes will be. The UK will remain a full member of the EU until any negotiations to withdraw are completed, and this is likely to take several years.
The short-term priority is to ensure that science has a strong voice in these negotiations because of the importance it has to the future of the UK. Before the referendum the IOP played an active role, together with our sister societies from across the STEM community, to explain in a balanced way what we felt the impact of exiting the EU would be on UK science, independent of any wider issues. We strongly believed it was important to be clear about the evidence and give a voice to trusted and respected experts. In fact you may have heard the IOP and our published evidence mentioned on Question Time the week before the vote.
I am writing to let you know that the IOP will be working hard in the coming months to continue to showcase the evidence and provide expert advice to the government on the importance of science in society, as a driver for innovation, and for the UK’s future prosperity. As we all know, our science base, in both academia and industry, creates jobs, supports economic growth and is an investment in future generations because, whatever the wider political context they find themselves in, science will have a vital role to play in their society.
Last Friday I wrote to the president and executive director of the European Physical Society (EPS) to assure the EPS that we would like our relationship with them to remain unchanged. We are writing to the other smaller European societies that we are affiliated to with the same message. I am pleased to have already received many notes from chief executives of partner societies across Europe offering their support through the challenging times ahead. These messages affirm what we all know: that physics, and science more generally, is not constrained by country boundaries and will remain a global endeavour, an endeavour in which we as a physics community are stronger together.
Moving forward, we will be working to create a secure and welcome future for all those from the EU working in our physics community, to ensure the future of the UK’s participation in European partnerships and shared facilities, and to establish a commitment from the government to secure at least the current levels of funding that the UK receives from the EU.
We have yet to hear what support government will offer to our physics-based business communities. However I take encouragement from an announcement that has just been made by the science minister, Jo Johnson, acknowledging the importance of the EU and our European neighbours to higher education and research, as well as acceptance of the challenges we face ahead and his desire to work closely with the sector to address these. Further, as I write this, the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee has just announced an inquiry in to the impact that leaving the EU will have on science and research. The IOP will be contributing to this and over the next few weeks our policy team will be writing out to our community for contributions to this submission.
The prime minister has set a timetable that begins in October, but I expect that it will be a while after that before we know anything concrete. I will write to you again after the changes in the autumn and as soon as we have any more substantive news to pass on.