Last night in the Chamber, Robin Walker, MP for Worcester and Parliamentary Under Secretary for Exiting the European Union, responded to and closed the debate on exiting the EU and science and research, on behalf of the Government. This was the last major Government debate of 2016. Robin has spoken in a number of debates on behalf of his new department since responding to the first Westminster Hall debate after the summer recess in 2016.

The debate was the third of a series of Government debates about the UK’s exit from the European Union and it was an important opportunity for MPs to discuss Brexit and the impact it will have on UK science and research. The House heard from a wide range of MPs from all over the country including the Chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee.

Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation also spoke on behalf of the Government at the opening of the debate on the success of UK research, the country’s world class science and space programmes and concluding:

“Throughout our exit of the European Union, we will continue to build on our ambitious global partnerships, including with our friends in the EU. We will put the UK at the forefront of international research on emerging global challenges, and we will continue to make sure that UK researchers have access to, and leadership of, world-class research facilities. We will continue to do everything we can to make sure that our proud history in science and research has a bright future.”

The debate follows announcements from the Chancellor recognising that many organisations across the UK which are in receipt of EU research funding, or bidding to receive funding, want reassurance that it will still be in place during or after the EU negotiations. The Chancellor confirmed that EU funding, including structural and investment funds projects and Horizon research funding grants signed before the UK leaves the EU, will be guaranteed by the Treasury up to 2020, even after the UK leaves the EU. Thousands of British organisations including businesses, universities and research organisations have received guarantees over EU funding from the Chancellor.

Robin explained how he and his ministerial colleagues have already met a number of higher education institutions and groups, including Universities UK, the National Academies, the Russell Group and Universities across the UK as well as a wide range of scientific organisations from the Government’s Chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport to the Presidents of the Royal Society and the Royal Academies. The sector strongly supports the UK’s ambition to create an environment in which the UK as a whole can continue to be a world leader in research, science and the tertiary education sector.

As Robin has said previously, the Government recognises the importance of research and will protect the science budget in real terms during this Parliament. The science budget of £4.7 billion will rise in cash terms every year in this Parliament, with a £1.5 billion Global Challenges Research Fund allocated over the next five years to ensure UK research is helping to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges. Even before the Autumn Statement the Government was set to spend £26 billion on research in the period ending in 2021. The Autumn Statement launched a substantial real terms increase in Government investment worth £2 billion per year by 2020 for R&D, to ensure British business remains at the cutting edge of scientific and technological discovery and a review of R&D tax credits.
 
Closing the debate on behalf of the Government, Robin said:

He opened his speech by saying:

“The UK’s global status as a science and research superpower is fundamental to our wider economic competitiveness…. This Government want the UK to be the go-to place for innovators and investors across the world, and we intend to secure the right outcome for the UK research base as we exit the European Union. This debate has highlighted some of the issues that we know we will have to consider as we negotiate to leave the EU, but retaining and building on our science and research base is a top priority that is shared by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, as we have seen today.” 

Noting continued investment in UK science and research by the private sector:

“I see continued confidence in the UK as a natural home for and world leader in science and innovation. Since the referendum, for example, we have welcomed many hundreds of millions of pounds of new investment in the life sciences and pharmaceuticals sector from Alnylam, GSK and AstraZeneca, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield; an £80 million investment in space technology from Seraphim Capital; and important job announcements from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and IBM, which will build four new data centres here in the UK. A recent survey by the CBI shows that 70% of businesses plan to increase or maintain their innovation spending following the vote to leave the EU. Only 7% plan to reduce their investment. The UK has always been one of the most innovative nations on the face of the earth, and I am certain that it will remain so.”

Robin concluded by saying:

“I would like to close by saying that the Government are committed to ensuring that research and innovation in the UK will continue to be a major success story after we withdraw from the EU. In the field of research, Britain is not just a European leader but a global one, and throughout the process we will be doing all we can to ensure that we stay that way. The excellence of our research and the attractiveness of the UK as a place to do it are fundamental to our success.”

Commenting after the debate Robin said:

“It was an honour to be able to speak in the last big Government debate of the year 2016, which has been such a dramatic year, I know from businesses in Worcester how vital R&D are to our economic success and I was proud to be able to speak about how essential it is that our country remains at the forefront of scientific endeavour as we prepare to leave the EU.”

Notes to Editors:

For further information on the debate: http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2016/december/mps-debate-exiting-the-eu-and-science-and-research/

To read the debate in full:

https://goo.gl/Y8X9az

To read Robin’s Ministerial response:

https://goo.gl/Bcke9i

To read more about the work of the Department for Exiting the EU:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-exiting-the-european-union