Science, Business, and Brexit

28 March 2017

29 Mar 2017

Following the triggering of Article 50 by the Prime Minister, officially beginning the process of the UK leaving the EU, we have reviewed some of the areas where Brexit may have an impact on science and business in Britain.


The UK is currently a member of the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) that is a research programme concerned with nuclear research and training, as well as providing free trade agreements for raw nuclear resources. Although EURATOM operates independently from the European single market, the organisation falls under the jurisdiction of the European Courts of Justice (ECJ). As the UK looks set to sever ties with the ECJ, its position within EURATOM will also be withdrawn, casting doubt over the future of the relationship between the UK and EU with regards to nuclear energy.


Currently, the European Union legislation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH) is the most sophisticated and comprehensive chemical safety organisation in the world. The organisation sits at the interface of EU member states, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the European commission, ensuring that chemicals are safely stored, monitored and used during chemical processes. As the UK will no longer be an EU member state, there have been many discussions as to whether the UK can remain a member of REACH and the extent to which the UK can continue to be a world leader in chemical safety.


The funding that the UK receives from the EU does not just affect academia, as industry in the UK benefits from a wide range of grants from the European commission. Figures have shown that the UK government provides the bulk of science funding, and EU funds only accounted for 3% of the total science investments made in 2016. David Davis, Minister for Exiting the European Union, has indicated that the UK may continue to make contributions to EU science funding programmes to ensure that levels of science funding in the UK do not suffer in the wake of Brexit.

‘Brain drain’

Throughout the last nine months, the future of immigration to the UK has never been far from the headlines. Along with new immigration, were the concerns of almost 3 million EU citizens who currently reside in Britain, and their future status as UK residents. Theresa May has looked to reassure EU citizens that the government will seek to protect their status and their rights to live and work in the UK.
Amongst science professionals, there is a fear that future collaborations may be affected by Brexit, leading them to emigrate to a country with a less uncertain immediate future. The Prime Minister has again promised that the government will ‘continue to attract the brightest and the best to work in the UK’, but only time will tell whether the balance of the UK’s workforce will change.

Trade tariffs

Perhaps the most uncertainty arising from Brexit concerns the future of the trading relationship between the UK and the EU. There have been various reports of the nature of this relationship, from free access to the UK defaulting to World Trade Organisation rules. Those in the government continue to argue that Brexit provides an opportunity for the UK to become ‘more international’, looking outward from the EU and strengthening trade relationships between the UK and other countries.

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