UK Scientists - Brexit or Remain?

Thu, 26/05/2016 - 14:30

The lead up to the referendum on the 23rd of June has, unsurprisingly, proven divisive, with fault lines forming through entire political parties. No doubt it will continue to be divisive even after the country has made its decision. The predicted result according to the polls is close, perhaps leaning slightly towards remain. However given the failure of the pollsters to predict the result of the 2015 election, it's questionable how much faith we can put in them.  What they can tell us with some certainty however, is how the science community feels about the EU.

Among scientists the polling has been much more clear-cut, showing that a significant majority see EU membership as beneficial. A survey by Nature of researchers based in the UK found that 78% though that Brexit would be harmful for UK Science, compared to 9% who thought it would be beneficial. The 'Scientists for EU' campaign group on Facebook has over 86,000 members, compared to the rather paltry 300+ members of 'Scientists for Britain' (by comparison, the official leave campaign has nearly 670,000 members on Facebook compared to just under 400,000 for the official stay campaign). I wouldn't count Facebook as a definitive poll, but it certainly shows a trend among scientists.

Common arguments cited by pro-EU scientists include the disproportionate amount of science funding the UK receives in grants from the EU, and the ease of access to continental talent that freedom of movement brings. Brexiteers contend that the money saved by Brexit (it's disputed how much) could be used to replace those grants, and that leaving the EU would not preclude hiring scientist from abroad. Their arguments, however, seem to have fallen on deaf ears, at least among the science community.

Amongst industry there seems to be similar support for the EU. On the 8th of May, 92 senior figures in the life science industry signed a letter expressing their support for remaining in the EU, including the CEOs of GSK, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and the BIA. Though many business leaders have come out in support of Brexit, few, if any, seem to come from the life sciences.

Although it remains to be seen what the result of referendum will be (and I'm not even going to attempt to make a prediction), scientists and the science industry seem to have a clear preference towards remain. I'm sure we will see to what degree their arguments can sway the general public in the weeks to come.

James Motteram, Administrative Executive at Sciad