union for life

Brexit and STEM


Brexit and STEM

Experience from the frontline

 Case study 01  Dr Helen Snaith, British Oceanographic Data Centre
 Case study 02  European Medicines Agency
 Case study 03  Professor Dr Carsten Welsch, QUASAR group
 Case study 04  Joana Beja, British Oceanographic Data Centre
 Case study 05  Margaret McKeen, the James Hutton Institute
 Case study 06  European Space Agency
 Case study 07  Dr Amelie Kirchgaessner, the British Antarctic Survey
 Case study 08  Dr Lucy Bricheno, National Oceanography Centre
 Case study 09  Natural England
 Case study 10  Dr Louise Sime, the British Antarctic Survey
 Case study 11  Culham Centre for Fusion Energy
 Case study 12  The Joint European Torus (JET)


What will Brexit mean for UK science and engineering?

Prospect is proud to represent 50,000 scientists, engineers and technical specialists across all major sectors of the economy

Our union is politically independent but we are concerned that the majority vote in the June 2016 referendum for the UK to leave the European Union will have significant and challenging implications for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) funding, collaboration and skills. Science is an international endeavour and continued free movement of people is vitally important both to the public interest and the wider economy.    

EU nationals working in STEM professions make a critical contribution to their employing organisations. Withdrawing this source of labour would jeopardise capacity, operational delivery and reputation.

Similarly, the proposal that the UK should also exit the European Atomic Energy community (Euratom) as part of the Brexit process will have wide-ranging implications for Britain’s nuclear industry, research, access to fissile materials and the status of approximately 20 nuclear co-operation agreements that it has with other countries around the world. It will also have an adverse economic impact. That is why Prospect is campaigning for:

  • guaranteed rights for EU nationals already working in the UK to remain here
  • continued international mobility for scientists and engineers, including for UK citizens to work in other EU countries
  • assurances that the UK will not exit Euratom, at least until equivalent provisions have been put in place
  • assurances about funding after 2020 – although the Chancellor announced in 2016 welcome additional funding for research and development as part of the Productivity Investment Fund, it is not yet clear where this will be allocated or if it will replace key EU funding streams when the EU’s own legal commitments to honour these payments ends  
  • early clarity about the UK’s relationship with the EU (and other countries) to provide assurances to international professional networks and mitigate against the UK being frozen out of collaborative proposals
  • strong repudiation of incidences of racism and xenophobia wherever and whenever they occur
  • engagement with stakeholders in developing a long-term strategy for UK STEM.

The credibility of UK science, technology, engineering and maths will be undermined if we restrict international collaboration. Many of the world-leading programmes in which the UK is involved are just not scalable to a national level. We must ensure that our investment in developing such expertise is not jeopardised by evidence-light politics.

The stories in this booklet provide a few examples of how Prospect members, and their important work, could be affected by Brexit. Although the government has started to set out its negotiating position, there is still huge uncertainty about what will happen to the work of Prospect members.

Uncertainty is not neutral – it damages relationships day-by-day. But this is not inevitable: now is the time for the UK government to make a tangible and ambitious commitment to the future of UK STEM.