Science for Progress

because science is fundamental in the 21st century

24 Brexit: Its Impacts on Science and Scientists – B&D with guests

Bart and I invited three scientists from both sides of the canal to talk about Brexit and how it impacts scientists and the scientific endeavor. Our guests are Andrew Phillipides (British citizen, and professor at Sussex University, UK), Thomas Nowotny (German citizen, and professor at Sussex University, UK), and Clare Hancock (British citizen, and PhD student at Göttingen University, Germany).

The goal of the EU is to promote peace, freedom, security and justice, sustainable development, social inclusion, cohesion and solidarity among member states, to respect cultural diversity, to establish an economic and monetary union (EUR).

And most important for this podcast, the European Union coordinates efforts to further scientific and technological progress across Europe. The EU runs a research programmes that is renewed every 7 years. For the current one, Horizon 2020, the EU spent nearly €80 billion that are provided by the member states. And this money goes into the funding and promotion of research across the EU.

The second important property of the EU for science is the freedom to travel, work, and live anywhere within the member states, as it is agreed in the Schengen Agreement.

In 2016 the citizens of the UK voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. This means that all these benefits from 40 years of Pan-European negotiations, are lost and have to be negotiated anew.

What are the consequences for Science in the UK and in the rest of the EU? Our guests talk about both the practical and formal consequences, but also the personal and social costs of Brexit.


On the funding site, the British Government will ensure the continuation of EU funded projects in the UK – at least for the 2-year transition period. A possible long-term solution would be the Swiss model. Switzerland contributes to the scientific funding in the EU financially, and in exchange Swiss labs can apply for EU funding programmes.

On the side of free movement, there is a little bit more of a hassle. A lot of bureaucracy is going into this. While nothing may change regarding simple travel, moving between the UK and EU to work and live is much more complicated.

The strongest impact, however, is the social one. The uncertainty of Brexit makes people reluctant to move to the UK to study or to do research. And it seems to have had affected the ability of UK labs to successfully apply for EU grants, negatively, for years.

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But it is not just funding and bureaucracy that deters students and researchers from moving to the UK. While surely many reasons have led to the outcome of the Brexit referendum, it did embolden xenophobia in the UK. Besides the chaotic political situation, this in particular has damaged the reputation of the British people.

Maybe a silver lining for the EU is that the Brexit example may have detered other countries from seriously considering to leave the EU. This may give the EU a chance to instead work on its reputation of being a barely democratic institution that mostly panders to elites.

I think everybody in this conversation agrees that leaving the EU is a bad decision that was made under questionable circumstances. And we all hope that the best solution for both UK and the rest of the EU can be found.

Andrew Phillipides’ Insect Navigation Group
Thomas Nowotny
Clare Hancock

about Dennis Eckmeier

Dennis founded Science for Progress. He received a PhD in neuroscience in 2010 in Germany. Until 2018 he worked as a postdoc in the USA, and Portugal. In 2017 he co-organized the March for Science in Lisbon, Portugal. Dennis is currently a freelancer.