Science Now + Beyond

UK scientists are furious -and scared- about Brexit

“British scientists will have to work hard in the future to counter the isolationism of Brexit if our science is to continue to thrive.”          

-Paul Nurse, head of the Francis Crick Institute

The United Kingdom just voted to leave the European Union in an historical referendum. People across the globe are weighing in with their concerns and some citizens of the UK are slowly starting to realize what this vote means.

With funding and international collaborations at stake, UK researchers are expressing deep concern over the future of science.

In March, a Nature poll found that over 80% of UK researchers living in and outside of the UK wanted the UK to remain in the EU. 78% said Brexit would actively harm UK science. And these numbers aren’t surprising: UK researchers have received billions of Euros in research grants. 

Loss of funding

Venki Ramakrishnan, the president of The Royal Society, stated today that “[i]n the past, UK science has been well supported by EU funding. This has been an essential supplement to UK research funds.” In fact, science research is one area where the UK receives more from the EU than it gives.

Even more, an in-depth study on the implications of Brexit for UK science concluded that the government will either be forced to make up for funding losses (remember: these losses amount for billions of Euros) or the prosperity of UK science will suffer.


Beyond funding, the EU provided the UK with a more expansive scientific community. A major crux of science research is open, international collaboration. If you think of any major scientific discovery during your lifetime, the team behind it was international. As science continues to advance and become more complex, collaborative efforts rise in necessity.

But UK’s exit from the EU may restrict the open borders between the scientific community, especially considering the large role immigration played for voters.

“One of the great strengths of UK research has always been its international nature, and we need to continue to welcome researchers and students from abroad. Any failure to maintain the free exchange of people and ideas between the UK and the international community including Europe could seriously harm UK science.”

-Venki Ramakrishnan, President of The Royal Society

What happens to the EU scientists currently living and working in the UK?

The EU allows any citizen to work and move freely across EU nations. With the UK’s exit, EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living across Europe are uncertain about what Brexit means for them. Closing off UK’s borders only adds complications for students and researchers –like getting visas to work or study. Many international agencies, like the European Medicines Agency, are headquartered in the UK. With its break from the EU, these headquarters will likely be moved elsewhere. Researchers fear that Brexit will results in major loss of access to research programs.

What now?

It is important to recognize that the potential implications for Brexit are far-reaching. An election like this affects all aspects of a global society. Going forward, UK scientists are pushing for their agenda to remain in the forefront of national discussions, rather than getting pushed aside. In order for science to advance, UK scientists maintain that the global scientific community must continue to work together to answer complex scientific questions. These questions will push our global society into a safer, healthier, and more knowledgable place. As Ramakrishnan states: “In the upcoming negotiations we must make sure that research, which is the bedrock of a sustainable economy, is not short changed.”

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By Sana Saiyed

Science editor and writer. Raised in Kentucky and educated at Wellesley College and the University of Chicago. Studies the ways in which climate change influences animal behavior.