Scientists warn of crippling impact of hard Brexit

World-leading scientists have warned Theresa May not to allow Brexit to create new barriers to collaboration across Europe.

Dozens of winners of the Nobel Prize have written to the Prime Minister and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker setting out their concerns.

Their message was echoed by the London-based Francis Crick Institute, which warned that a hard Brexit could cripple science across the continent.

Theresa May visited the Francis Crick Institute earlier this year with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Theresa May visited the Francis Crick Institute earlier this year with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Nobel winner and Crick director Sir Paul Nurse, one of the signatories to the letter, said scientists feared a hard Brexit would “seriously damage research”.

The letter to the Prime Minister, signed by 29 Nobel winners and six recipients of the Fields Medal awarded to outstanding mathematicians, said “creating new barriers” to collaboration across the EU would “inhibit progress, to the detriment of us all”.

“Many of us in the science community therefore regret the UK’s decision to leave the European Union because it risks such barriers,” the group said.

They urged both sides in the Brexit negotiations to ensure “as little harm as possible is done to research”.

The letter’s signatories include biologist Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society.

Meanwhile, a survey of more than 1,000 staff at the Crick found 97% of them believed a hard Brexit would be bad for UK science and 82% thought it would have a detrimental effect on European science.

The Crick is the biggest biomedical research lab under one roof in Europe and has been publicly praised by the Prime Minister, who toured the facility with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in April.

Sir Paul said: “This survey reveals the depth of feeling amongst scientists that a hard Brexit will seriously damage research, and that the UK Government is not paying enough attention to science in the Brexit negotiations.

“Science and research matter for economic growth, health and quality of life, and the environment.

“The overwhelming negativity of scientists towards a hard Brexit should be a wake-up call.

“A hard Brexit could cripple science and the UK Government needs to sit up and listen.

“We need a deal that replaces the science funding lost because of Brexit, that preserves freedom of movement for talented scientists, and that makes them feel welcome in this country.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “The UK plays a vital role in making Europe a pioneering base for research and values the contribution that international researchers make to the UK.

“This will not change when we leave the EU. We will seek an ambitious relationship on science and innovation with our EU partners, exploring future UK participation in mutually beneficial research programmes, and will continue to support science, research and innovation through our modern Industrial Strategy.

“We have a proud record of welcoming the world’s brightest scientists and researchers to work and study here, and after we leave the EU we will have an immigration system to support this.”