Brexit, Science and Innovation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:55 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk 1:55 pm, 6th September 2018

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that point. Indeed, Scotland does have two Parliaments and two Governments. I have experience of both Parliaments, and I would argue that both have their merits. We had a very debate before the referendum in which both sides set out their case very clearly. It is arguably clear that during the 2014 independence referendum campaign in Scotland, the Scottish Government, the Scottish National party and the yes campaign did not put forward quite the full analysis that they should have.

It goes without saying that Scotland was, and continues to be, a proud nation of innovators and scientists, from the invention of the world-changing telephone by Alexander Graham Bell to the discoveries by Peter Higgs at the University of Edinburgh. Indeed, this innovation continues today in my constituency in the Scottish borders, where Plexus in Kelso is building some of the most cutting-edge machines in the healthcare, communications and computing industries and selling them right across the world.

Just last week the Economic Secretary to the Treasury visited Galashiels, where we heard from business leaders how they are taking advantage of innovations in FinTech that are being pioneered here in the UK. I look forward to such innovation post Brexit too, especially with the support of the Conservative Government, under whom we have already seen the largest increase in scientific research and development funding since 1979, meaning an additional £7 billion of investment by 2022. Just today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced a £16 million funding boost to the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow to help develop quantum technology.

There is also the very welcome industrial strategy, which will focus our economy on becoming one of the most innovative in the world. That is not just good for our economy and our global science ambitions but will mean greener, healthier and cheaper housing for hard-working families. Improved healthcare technology will ensure that treatments on the NHS are world-leading and, most importantly, delivering for patients. The Government’s commitment to growth throughout our regions and nations is also clear to see. The spaceport in Sutherland in the north of Scotland is perhaps the most tangible example of our global and, indeed, universal ambitions in science and innovation.

As the Committee’s report highlights, to continue being at the forefront of science and innovation, the United Kingdom will still need to attract not only the brightest and the best but also the essential technicians and lab assistants, and many other roles that our universities and private sector businesses rely on. That is not an issue solely for the science and innovation sector, as many industries have the same concern. However, I do not agree that there will suddenly be no foreign workers the day we leave the European Union. There is a world outside and beyond the European Union desperate to engage with a new global Britain. That is already clear to see, with recent immigration figures showing that the highest net migration into the United Kingdom from non-EU countries since 2011 has just taken place. As the Committee reported:

“UK science is entering the Brexit process from a strong starting position.”

We are home to some of the most envied university institutions in the world. To say that suddenly the EU would not want access to that fantastic resource for their young, ambitious scientists is just not sustainable. I can understand the concerns that various organisations have when our country is going through such a substantial change, but plenty of our universities pioneered many ground-breaking innovations and discoveries long before the concept of free movement in the European Union was developed, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so long after.

Brexit will change things; we all know that. There will be challenges; we also know that. But as we see one of the biggest changes in the governance of our country in recent times, we must grasp the opportunities that Brexit will bring. A chance to make deeper and lasting relationships with countries around the world, and not only in Europe, will see our universities, science and innovation flourish.