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UK must hurry to agree science and innovation deal with EU, MPs say

The Science and Technology Committee calls on government to urgently secure science and innovation deal with the EU to get clarity on funding, regulation and talent retention and recruitment

Government should negotiate a science and innovation deal with the European Union (EU) by October 2018 at the latest, according to MPs.

A report by the Science and Technology Committee has called on the government to agree a “detailed agreement” on science and innovation, and ensure cross country collaboration continues.

The committee said that the government must “act now” to ensure a deal is agreed by October 2018,” or earlier if possible”.

“Co-operation on science and innovation is widely regarded as a ‘win-win’ for both the UK and the EU. Securing an early agreement on science and innovation would set a positive tone for other elements of the negotiations, but the Government needs to act swiftly,” the report said.

“It cannot be taken for granted that the UK will retain its status as a science superpower.”

During her latest Brexit speech, prime minister Theresa May highlighted the need to ensure a data protection agreement, as well as a “science and innovation pact” with the EU. 

The committee said it welcomed her commitment, but added that it’s concerned “that if there were to be a protracted delay in agreeing this, it would have unfortunate effects” and called on the government to make it “an urgent priority”.

Science and Technology Committee chair, Norman Lamb, said he is “concerned” by the current lack of clarity”, especially around “access to funding, association with regulatory bodies, and immigration policies”.

“An early deal would provide assurances to researchers, students and academics, and could set a positive tone for future negotiations. It is crucial that the government acts swiftly. If it fails to do so both sides could suffer considerably as a result,” he added.

The report highlighted several risks to the country’s science and innovation sectors, should the UK fail to agree a deal soon, including the country’s participation in the Horizon 2020 successor programme, which covers the EU’s 2021-2027 funding cycle.

Because the UK is still a member state, the government has submitted its input to the consultation process on the successor programme, which includes a focus on” innovation and cross-border industry-driven collaborative research”.

“These are important features for the new programme, and the UK should continue to play a full part in shaping [the framework] while it remains a member of the EU, not least to demonstrate the contribution that UK research and innovation can continue to make post-Brexit for the mutual benefit of the UK and EU members,” the committee report said.

However, the UK is not guaranteed to be a member of the framework post Brexit, and has been asked by the European Scrutiny Committee to clarify its position.

“While the details of the programme have not yet been agreed, the government should state clearly that it intends to participate unless there is a material unfavourable difference between the new programme and its predecessor, and that the UK is ready to pay a fair ‘entry fee’ to secure this. If the price is too high, or the focus on excellence is diluted, a change in approach might be warranted, but the government’s explicitly stated assumption must be to participate fully,” the report said.

It also added that without a deal on science and innovation soon, the UK could lose out on vital talent, and the committee added that the agreement  has to cover issues relating to people, and that “a pact that does not address this fully would be pointless”.

“We are concerned that if a people-centred science and innovation pact is negotiated later it risks being less comprehensive due to other negotiation priorities of the wider post-Brexit trade deal. Furthermore, if a pact is not agreed in late 2018 this will increase risks to retaining and attracting the essential talent that our science and innovation sectors need.”

The CBI, which submitted evidence to the committee has come out in support of the report. Tom Thackray, CBI innovation director, said the committee “is spot on”.

“The UK’s business community has benefited greatly from working with their international counterparts on science and innovation projects over decades,” he said.

“European businesses and universities still see the UK as an integral part of their own innovation ecosystems and are keen to see this continue.”

 Read more about Brexit negotiations:

The damage that leaving the EU without a deal will reap on the UK tech sector is unthinkable, a House of Lords committee has been told. 

House of Commons Select Committee report sets out Brexit challenges such as uncertainty around regulations, data protection, mobile roaming charges and skills. 

The European Commission has emphasised the importance of having a data transfer agreement in place after the UK leaves the European Union. 

Read more on IT innovation, research and development

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