Brexit, Science and Innovation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:35 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock 1:35 pm, 6th September 2018

I will do my very best to stick to your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I thank Norman Lamb, my successor as Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, for securing this debate and for his comprehensive remarks, with which he did an excellent job of covering the contents of our two reports. I shall try not to repeat too many of his points, but there is always a danger in these matters that we cover the same ground.

For clarity, we are leaving the EU on 29 March next year. That is what the Government have stated consistently and it is what the people voted for on 23 June 2016 in the largest demonstration of a democratic vote. It is now our duty to deliver on that. As we know, though, it is not without challenges, which are particularly poignant for the science community. The challenges were expressed almost immediately following that historic vote. Only five days later, we had our Parliamentary Links Day—for those who do not know, that is the largest interaction between the science community and Parliament—the subject of which was “Science After the Referendum: What Next?” It was a packed event and the first real opportunity for people from the science community to express their concerns, which they did vocally.

Since then, there have been many opportunities. With the help of the Royal Society, the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, which I am fortunate enough to chair, held a number of meetings and eventually published a report, “Science priorities for Brexit”, which I think was the first report to try to bring together the views of the science community. That was followed up by a meeting last October, and we are planning another one for this October to try to keep gauging the temperature and the views of the science community on how it thinks things are going and what it thinks we should be doing.

Of course, there is also the work of the Science and Technology Committee. As we have heard, back in November 2016, when I was the Chairman, we produced a report called “Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research”, which has been followed up by a Brexit summit and subsequent report. More recently, we published our report “An immigration system that works for science and innovation”.

So, what did we hear? Time and again, we heard the same message: science is special and needs our and the Government’s support to ensure that we as a nation continue to be a science superpower. That phrase is much used, but it is true: we have 1% of the world’s population, yet we create 15% of the most highly cited papers. Pound for pound, we punch well above our weight. It is our scientists who are rising to the national and international challenges that face us.