Brexit is over and the people of Great Britain have voted to leave the European Union. While their decision has obvious implications concerning trade and policy between the island nation and the continent, it’s less clear how Britain’s decision to secede is going to affect decades of scientific collaboration between the two. The Royal Astronomical Society released a statement recently drawing its line in the sand.
“We must remember that whatever happens, science has no boundaries,” says Professor John Zarnecki, the president of the Royal Astronomical Society. “I have been privileged during my career to have worked in a research environment in Europe which has had few borders for either people or ideas.”
And this is the major point of the statement: recent history has afforded scientific inquiry the luxury of ignoring borders. Any restrictions that limit the free flow of ideas between academics and researchers from different countries only works against the progress of all.
According to the RAS statement, “an overwhelming majority of scientists and engineers — including the astronomers, space scientists, and geophysicists that we represent — were in favour of continued EU membership.”
The UK could fall behind in terms of its ability to innovate and discover if scientists there were suddenly left out of programs like CERN or Horizon 2020. These programs owe their existence, at least in part, to the collaboration between EU countries.
Unlike the European Space Agency, which is a separate entity from the larger EU and looks to remain relatively unaffected, other researchers may not be so lucky. Academic and scientific efforts in the UK benefit greatly from EU membership, in the ease of recruitment personnel and ideas from the mainland.
No less important, membership in the EU provides money. The cooperative pool of funding of all the member states helps spur greater innovation for everyone. The RAS calls out those proponents of the Leave Campaign to stick to their pledge and, “make good any shortfall in science funding that results from departure from the EU.”
Zarnecki also warns that any isolation or deviation from what researchers have enjoyed under Britain’s EU membership “would be enormously to the detriment of UK society.” Unfortunately, that may not be persuasive enough for those who voted to secede.