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Brexit – what is the current status (on research)?

 

The primary principle of the EU27 remains that before talks on the future can begin, the negotiations on an orderly withdrawal must first make enough progress to prove that the UK is a credible negotiating partner. An orderly exit procedure for the EU concerns mainly the questions of financial settlement, citizens’ rights and the situation of Northern Ireland.

  • Whilst Brexit and its implications have a strong focus in the British political process, the EU 27 focused on progress in other areas. Efforts have been made to use Brexit as an opportunity to re-launch the EU political project, by looking to the post-Brexit future and launching a debate on where the EU would like to go.
  • Following the referendum, Donald Tusk, European Council President highlighted during a summit of the EU 27 that “until the United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union, EU law will continue to apply to and within the UK. And by this I mean rights and obligations”.
  • In the UK, domestic politics there are many divisions within parties and campaign groups, between “Remainers” and groups of “Leavers” and even between different parts of the prime minister's Cabinet.

What is the status on research?

When it comes to research the UK appears to have two main options on whether scientists will retain access to the European Commission’s research funding programmes after the country leaves the European Union.

  • The UK can either become an associated member of the framework programmes – contributing in order for its researchers to be able to apply for funding but having no say over how the framework programme is funded or structured.
  • The second option would be that it loses access to the funding and might potentially set up its own collaborative funding schemes to replace them.
  • In reality, as Brexit talks progress, decisions in seemingly unrelated areas could have a huge impact on research such as the free movement of people and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Countries associated with the framework programme must agree to let the European Court of Justice settle any disputes that arise in relation to its funding.
  • Despite all this, there is some hope, as the countries that are associated with the framework programme have varying deals with the EU in terms of the free movement of people. But the political will needs to be there. If the UK leaves the framework programme, its academics may still be able to work on EU-funded grants but not secure them personally as part of a “third country” set-up. Applying for European Research Council grants will be another option, but researchers would have to conduct their research in a European country, or one with associated status, for half the term of the grant.

Whichever way will be chosen by the negotiators, it is expected to be a complicated process and the only certainty appears to be that UK research is likely to lose out.