Our president, Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedsci, writes to the Fellowship to inform them of the Academy's activities to ensure science and research is prioritised and protected during the Brexit negotiations
I am sure you are all watching developments around Brexit with interest, and possibly a wide range of emotions. You will know that, following the 2016 EU referendum result, ensuring the best possible outcome for UK biomedical and health science has been a high priority for the Academy of Medical Sciences.
As Parliament heads into an even more frenetic Brexit period, I wanted to take the opportunity to update you on the Academy’s Brexit-related activities.
The 4 Ps: people, pounds, partnerships and permissions
From the start the Academy has sought to raise the most critical issues to the UK’s and EU’s mutually beneficial relationship in medical research, namely: people, pounds (funding), partnerships and permissions (regulation). We have reinforced these messages at meetings with politicians and officials from the UK and Europe, including UK Science and Health Ministers, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, Pascal Lamy, the Commission’s chief adviser on maximising the impact of EU research and innovation, and Robert-Jan Smits, the Commission’s former Director General for Research.
High level engagement
I have represented the Academy of Medical Sciences on the Science Minister’s High Level Group on EU Exit, alongside the Presidents of the national Academies, Wellcome Trust and others. This group has informed the UK Government’s position on research and innovation, including its commitment to seek the closest possible relationship with EU programmes to support research and innovation, Horizon 2020 and its successor Horizon Europe. Through this group and elsewhere, we continue to advocate for the importance of translating this commitment into a meaningful association agreement.
The risks of a ‘no deal’ Brexit
Over the last six months, we have highlighted the serious negative impacts of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit for medical research, including the disruption to productive collaborations, lost access to funding, barriers to clinical trials and research into rare diseases, and a diminution in our ability to attract and retain researchers to the UK. Our ‘no deal’ statement was published during the Conservative Party Conference in October. I was able highlight our concerns to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on Radio 4’s PM programme during the conference, and the statement was delivered directly to the then Science Minister, Sam Gyimah MP. Engagement with opposition parties was maintained through joint events at the Labour and Liberal Democrat Party Conferences.
We were pleased that our colleagues at the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) issued a statement in October on the need to safeguard UK and European medical research post-Brexit. We have visited seven European Academies since the Brexit vote and they have all highlighted the value to their researchers of scientific collaboration with the UK.
We have consistently highlighted the need to build an efficient, fair and transparent immigration system that supports UK medical research to attract and retain the best global talent to both Parliament and the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee. In June, the Academy took a group of Fellows, grant holders and early career researchers to Parliament to discuss the importance of international mobility for their careers. In November, the Presidents of all four National Academies wrote to the Home Secretary to highlight the importance of international mobility for research and innovation. When Government published its immigration white paper in December, we took a cross-party group of Parliamentarians to the Francis Crick Institute to meet researchers and see first-hand how international mobility and collaboration underpins medical research.
Immigration was once again a key issue raised at a dinner of the Academy Presidents with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in November, and the Academy continues to liaise with senior officials around the negative implications of a £30k salary threshold for skilled workers.
Contingency planning and future scenarios
Together with the other National Academies and UKRI, the Academy of Medical Sciences has engaged with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on contingency planning with regard to both Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe – all the time emphasising the strongest preference for the closest possible association.
As a charity the Academy must focus solely on issues related to our mission to ‘promote biomedical and health research and its translation into benefits for patients and society’. Like Universities UK, Russell Group and many others, we have continued to highlight the grave risks to UK research if we leave without a deal. Whatever may happen in the wake of a Parliamentary Vote on the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal agreement, we will continue to champion UK medical science as fundamental to our nation’s health and wealth, and to ensure it is given foremost consideration by Parliament, Government, and EU institutions.
Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci
Monday 14 January, 2019
To see our President's previous update on Brexit, delivered back in March 2018 please see here
For more information about Academy policy work around Brexit, visit this page
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