LeaveHQ, 04/01/2016  

Having found as we did that anybody sane had tuned out of the Brexit debate before Christmas eve, the europhiles are recycling all the copy that was ignored over Christmas - not least with an article hyping up the scare over British scientific research.

Dr Mike Galsworthy, Programme Director of Scientists for EU, remarks that:

"According to new UNESCO data, 62% of UK scientific outputs are now international, compared to 39.6% for the US. It is that dynamic which has driven us to overtake the US for science productivity recently, according to a 2013 government report.

We pick and mix our collaborative teams from a huge smorgasbord. The EU is a science colossus, producing 34% more science output that the US and that gap is widening. Over the last decade, the EU has tripled its science budget, even as UK national science investment has shrunk. The current seven-year EU science programme, called Horizon 2020, is funded to €80 billion and also facilitates collaborations worldwide. We are at the epicentre of this global collaborative hub. Can we maintain this we leave the EU?

Countries such as Switzerland, Norway and Israel buy into the programme from outside, but have no policy voice. With less than 2% participation each, that hardly matters. Policy is a huge factor for the UK, however. We have been driving the programme direction and, at 15%, participate in more projects than any nation. Beyond policy influence loss, there’s no guarantee of continued full participation. Inside, it’s an entitlement. Outside, it’s not. Switzerland recently could negotiate only partial access due to immigration issues. It reduced their involvement by 40%.

First off, Horizon 2020 is not a "science" programme. Only a small part is pure science and much of it is social policy dressed up as science, and much of it not even dressed up. But this needs putting to bed once and for all. 

In the event of Brexit, the EU is well aware that any misstep in negotiations that leads to complications and possibly economic damage for us means the same for them - thus we take it as read that nobody will be in a hurry to complicate negotiations. 

It is wholly likely that we would seek to retain our involvement in EU academic programmes, and thus, would continue on precisely the same basis, mainly for the purposes of cutting an item off the negotiation agenda. That only comes unstuck should we make unreasonable demands regarding freedom of movement that run counter to what has already been agreed. Such is the circumstance that sparked restrictions on Switzerland's involvement.

As to what shape our own involvement takes depends very much on the Brexit scenario thus no hard and fast conclusions could be drawn as to the effects, but in all likelihood, for the sake of a rapid conclusion to Article 50 negotiations, it is more than likely both parties would seek the path of least resistance and go for the Norway option, which grants us full participation in EU academic programmes on more or less the same basis, with equal access to funds.

We take the view that the EU is in no hurry to lose access to Oxford, Cambridge and Southampton, each global leaders in science and innovation, and would not seek to cut off their nose in order to spite their face. 

But this is all petty minutia that will come out in the wash. The point is, our participation will continue and though participation may be sub optimal there are other benefits that offset marginal inconveniences - not least the ability to widen the scope of such academic programmes with the rest of the world, using the EU agreements as a base template. Why should it be a Europeans only club?

The killer blow for Dr Galsworthy though is the more glaring inconsistency in his logic. He argues that being out of the EU means reduced influence in one single intergovernmental agreement - one which contributes only 2.3% of higher education income. Curious!

Because we are members of the EU, trade (among many other areas) is an exclusive competence of the EU. That means the EU heavily restricts our access to global top tables, heavily restricts our voting rights and removes our international veto at all the top tables. That means we have seriously diminished influence in all the international agreements that form the basis of single market regulation and trade. 

This often means delayed development of common regulatory areas extending beyond the EU, watered down agreements and failed agreements due to cultural and legal differences across the EU. We lose out on major global advances in trade to preserve the integrity of the largely malfunctioning internal EU market. 

Increasingly we find we have a muted voice at the ILO, the IMO, UNECE, Codex and a number of other vital global entities which are key to the development of a single market far larger than one corner of Europe. 

Thus, the proposition from Dr Galsworthy is that it is worth turning our backs on a whole new era of global trade, and instead be content with diminished access to the top tables, with only a proxy vote and a muted voice within. His view is that we should be erased from the world stage, with the loss of democracy that entails for the sake of his own selfish fringe interest. We are very curious to know how he can reconcile this glaring hypocrisy. 

With that in mind, we must voice our concern that British academia is wading into a political debate that largely shapes the democratic future of our nation on the basis of access to political funding. This is very much a question for the people of Britain as to who governs them. In that regard, it is not the business of the academic establishment to be seeking to sway the outcome on the basis of their selfish financial concerns. It very much seems like British academia is bought and paid for.

In that, as much as we question Dr Galsworthy's grasp of logic, we must also ask how we can ever again trust the integrity and authenticity of British academic output when it will bend to the preferences of its paymasters. For all the hyperventilation about the supposed damage Brexit will do to British scientific research, we cannot think of anything more damaging to our prestigious global reputation than an institution that will sell its soul for a research grant. 

How can it claim to uphold the values of enlightenment when it would gladly exchange democracy and global influence over the matter of a few quid? Sad times we're living in. 

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