Safeguarding Research Collaborations and Scientific Excellence

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2018.

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Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

I have already taken an intervention; I want to make a little progress.

It is in that positive spirit that I lodged today’s Scottish Conservative amendment to the Government’s motion.

It is important to highlight that the Scottish further education sector and, indeed, many of our research institutions, do not exist in isolation. That is true in a UK sense, in a European sense and in a global sense. Again, it is important to get the balance right. My reading of the Government’s motion is that it lacks balance and nuance. Where possible, we have sought to strip some of the politics out of it. Although the concerns that many in the sector have outlined should give members cause to reflect, and they deserve careful consideration in the debate, it serves no one’s purpose to politicise the sector or those concerns, or in any way suggest that the sector overall is at risk.

I remain confident, for the reasons that are outlined in our amendment, that the UK Government is doing everything that it can to achieve an orderly and negotiated Brexit—a Brexit that will allow many of those relationships to continue and flourish, while at the same time enabling new partnerships and relationships to grow.

I particularly welcome the chancellor’s commitment to keep funding at existing levels up to 2020. I also welcome the new Government initiatives that have been announced since the British public voted to leave the EU, which some of my colleagues will talk more about. I believe that those initiatives will help to shore up the university sector and support new and innovative research across Scotland and the United Kingdom.

I am pleased that the UK will continue participating in the horizon programme. I am also pleased that the intention of the UK and the EU is that UK researchers and businesses will remain eligible to participate in horizon 2020 and that the position will remain unchanged for the duration of the programme. That has already been agreed as part of the financial settlement that was signed off by UK, EU and Commission negotiators in a draft withdrawal agreement and welcomed by the other 27 EU countries at the March European Council.

Moreover, the next horizon scheme could include the UK—that would be desirable—with the new funding scheme due to last from 2021 to 2027. As the EU’s research commissioner has indicated, the legal text supporting the programme

“is done in a way so that we can include UK in the future as a third country. The doors are open for discussion.”

I believe that that flexibility is to be welcomed, which is why we are pleased to support Labour’s amendment today. Scottish Conservatives will do all that we can to secure the UK’s positive future involvement in the horizon 2020 programme, just as we have urged the UK Government

“to ensure that the visa system is structured to attract students and staff of the highest calibre to work in UK universities and research centres.”

We believe that there is no impediment to that in post-Brexit Britain and will continue to strongly make that case, as outlined in our amendment.

Before concluding, I say to the Liberal Democrats that we will not be able to support their amendment at decision time. Although I commend them on their sometimes somewhat obsessive wish to hold another referendum, we believe that the matter has already been settled and that the best Brexit deal will be secured by ensuring co-operation across all the parties, with everyone doing what they can to support the Prime Minister as she seeks to build a consensus.