Belfast Telegraph

MPs urge science sector contingency plans in case of Brexit

Ministers are being urged by MPs to draw up contingency plans to protect Britain's science sector in the event of a vote to leave the European Union.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee said the UK benefited "significantly" from access to EU research budgets and would have to seek other sources for funding if it was withdrawn.

It highlighted the "cautionary example" of Switzerland, which was denied access to science funding programmes when the EU imposed sanctions in response to a vote to curtail the freedom of movement.

While after lengthy negotiations the Swiss were eventually permitted to rejoin the programmes, it was on "much more restrictive terms", the committee said.

Committee chairwoman Nicola Blackwood said: "In light of this, the Government must conduct a risk analysis of the impact that a vote to leave would have on science funding and international collaboration.

"Ministers must put in place contingency plans to protect us from any adverse consequences for our science and innovation sector, as well as consolidating any benefits."

The committee - which includes supporters of both Leave and Remain - did not come down on either side in the debate, noting that there are both benefits and costs to the UK science sector from EU membership.

The harmonisation of the procedures under which research is conducted in the EU meant the British life sciences sector had access to an EU-wide market while helping to attract inward investment to the UK, it said.

However, the EU life sciences regulatory regime "may well" be more costly for researchers and businesses than individual nation systems while "weaknesses" in EU directives had increased the costs and administrative burden of running clinical trials, it added.