Science & Environment

PM wants positive outcome for science in Brexit talks

Theresa May Image copyright Franco Origlia
Image caption Theresa May: "The Government's ongoing commitment to science and research remains steadfast".

The Prime Minister has said that she wants to ensure a positive outcome for science in negotiations to leave the European Union.

Theresa May has said that the UK is "enriched by the best minds from Europe and around the world".

She states that providing reassurance to them and to UK scientists working in Europe will be a "priority".

Mrs May's comments were made in a letter seen by BBC News that was written five days after she became PM.

The Prime Minister wrote to one of the country's leading scientists, Professor Sir Paul Nurse, who is director of the Francis Crick Institute in London and a former president of the Royal Society.

In the letter she states: "I wanted to write to you to make clear that the Government's ongoing commitment to science and research remains steadfast".

She adds that her government is committed to protecting science and research funding in real terms. Mrs May also tells the Nobel Prize winner that the reorganisation of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy "does not signal any reduction in the very high priority I attach to teaching and research".

And crucially on Brexit she says: "I would like to reassure you about the government's commitment to ensuring a positive outcome for UK science as we exit the European Union. While we negotiate a new relationship with our European partners, we are not turning our backs on European scientists."

The UK receives £850m in research funds from the European Union each year. Full membership of one of the main EU funding programmes requires free movement of labour. British universities employ 30,000 scientists with EU citizenship.

Rising uncertainty

There have already been reports of UK scientists losing out in EU grant applications and of EU citizens not taking up posts in UK universities because of the uncertainty around funding and the residency status of EU citizens following the referendum result last month.

Five days after the result Sir Paul said: "For science to thrive it must have access to the single market, and we do need free movement."

Mrs May's letter does not offer those commitments but Sir Paul said he was heartened to see that she wrote to him within days of taking office.

Sir Paul told BBC News: "The letter from the prime minister supporting science was most welcome and we look forward to working with her to achieve the best future for British science, which is crucial for the future of the UK."

A copy of the letter was sent to the President of the Royal Society Prof Venki Ramkrishanan, who also welcomed the fact that the prime minister is aware of the important of scientific research to the UK

"These are uncertain times, so having the new prime minister making such a positive commitment to science is very encouraging. She not only reaffirms the government's financial support for science at home but also to ensuring a positive outcome for science in the Brexit negotiations. I am looking forward to working with her and her colleagues to turn these words into action."

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