Fears Brexit ‘could cripple UK science’ resonate at Wellcome Genome Campus

PUBLISHED: 13:03 25 October 2018

Nick Lench is chief scientific officer at Congenica. Picture: Keith Heppell

Nick Lench is chief scientific officer at Congenica. Picture: Keith Heppell

Iliffe Media Ltd

With the Francis Crick Institute warning that a hard or no-deal Brexit “could cripple UK science”, a senior scientist based at Hinxton’s Wellcome Genome Campus has told of the sense of anger, concern and even despair around the issue as the prospects of a collapse in the negotations appears ever more likely.

Work at Wellcome Genome Campus involves an international workforceWork at Wellcome Genome Campus involves an international workforce

The London-based Francis Crick Institute, Britain’s biggest biomedical research lab, this week released the findings of a survey of 1,000 staff, with 97 per cent saying they believe a hard Brexit would be bad for UK science and only 4 per cent believing the UK government is committed to getting a good deal for science.

The analysis was released as 29 Nobel Prize winning scientists from across Europe wrote to UK Prime Minister Theresa May and EU President Jean-Claude Juncker urging the “closest possible cooperation between the UK and the EU” after Brexit to preserve vital scientific research.

There is already concern that a botched Brexit would leave the UK without proper stockpiles of medicines: the European Medicines Agency has already moved to Amsterdam, creating a possible certification crisis next year.

“I totally agree with that message,” Nick Lench, chief scientific officer at Congenica on the Campus told the Cambridge Independent. “Indeed you could argue that the message could have got out sooner.

A no-deal Brexit would present significant challenges to the success of the UK's science sectorA no-deal Brexit would present significant challenges to the success of the UK's science sector

“I’ve got a lot of colleagues who have PhD students from overseas who are really nervous about the situation. There are concerns about knowledge transfer, and European funding. The Genome Campus houses a huge number of European students. People are a bit panicky, especially if you are a young post-doc scientist.

“There probably is anger in there as well, though my personal feelings are around concern, and... I was going to say despair but perhaps despondency is better, around the free movement of scientists. To not have that would be a disaster. It’s not just about work, it’s the prospect of not having colleagues and friendships which enrich all parts of your life. People don’t always understand how it all fits together.”

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