Will the UK be able to continue to recruit the best scientists and researchers from across Europe after we leave the EU? Today I asked Brexit Minister Robin Walker to give some clarity on this. The current state of confusion risks seriously damaging the international standing of our technology companies, research institutes and universities.

For example, the University of Bristol in my constituency has a well-deserved reputation for excellence, but this is dependent on getting the best staff. Many of my constituents working at the University tell me that that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit academics and other staff that they need from across the EU. With the mess this Government is making of Brexit, it is completely understandable that world-class scientists and researchers would prefer to move to cities where they may have a longer-term future, with guaranteed rights to remain there as long as they like.

Research funding is another major area of uncertainty forcing researchers to look elsewhere. Researchers from Bristol have told me that they are extremely worried that funding will dry up when we leave the EU, leading to a brain drain. In this area, the Minister’s response was inadequate.

He states that UK institutions will be able to access Horizon funding (the EU’s research and innovation funding programme) until the end of the current budget, known as the Multiannual Financial Framework or MFF. What he fails to mention is that this is due to expire at the end of 2020 – just a couple of years away. What then? Several constituents carrying out world-changing research have told me they need longer term clarity.

Universities and technology companies are vital if we are to stay competitive outside the EU. This is yet another area where the shambolic Brexit negotiations are jeopardising our future. I will continue to hold the Government to account throughout this critical phase.


SPEAKER: Thangam Debbonaire.

THANGAM: Mr Speaker, the Minister mentions that we want to attract the brightest and the best, but he missed some of what the Hon. Lady’s question was about, why my constituents at the University of Bristol are very concerned about. This is the free flow of researchers and scientists around the European Union and the exchange of knowledge. They say they are already struggling; scientific firms in my constituency say they are struggling. What further clarification can he give?

MINISTER: Well, I say to the Hon. Lady, we’ve reached some important agreements already with regard to the Implementation Agreement and the continuation of our existing membership of Horizon until the end of the MFF. What we want to do now is to secure the science and innovation pack which we’ve been discussing in our meetings with the Commission, and those meetings have been constructive and positive.

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