My speech on MedCity
Over the next 20 years, MedCity a collaboration between the Mayor and London’s three Academic Health Science Centres – Imperial , King’s , and UCL- to promote life sciences investment, entrepreneurship and industry aims to position London and the south east of England as a world-leading, interconnected region for life sciences research, development, manufacturing and commercialisation to stimulate greater economic growth. But much of this depends on securing a good deal from the EU.
Since the 1980s, global research has become rapidly more international. The prevalence of scientific research papers co-authored by researchers from more than one country has risen sharply.
Since 1981, the UK has risen from 15 per cent of its papers being international (and 85 per cent domestic authors only) to over 50 per cent international today. In fact, almost all the growth in UK output is in the form of international collaborations.
48 Nobel Prize science Laureates have links with London universities, and more research papers are generated here than in any other city in the world after Boston, the home of Harvard University.
Over the last five years London has attracted 35 major new life sciences foreign investment projects, bringing more than £330m and over 1,300 new jobs.
The UK has done disproportionately well with EU research funding, securing 15.5% of the last programme.
While the Government claim they would honour any EU funding for projects already funded up until 2020, they say nothing about new projects or what would happen after then.
So I question how we can ensure an end to the uncertainty which could destabilise Med City’s success and secure long term funding for life sciences in a post Brexit world.
Of course, EU support for science goes well beyond funding. Free movement of skills and ideas is especially important in science.
The new £700m Francis Crick Institute in my constituency in King’s Cross is the UK’s globally-leading scientific discovery institute. They employ and collaborate with the best scientists from around the UK and the world. More than 60% of their laboratory scientists and more than half of their Post Doctoral researchers are from the EU.
The Crick’s concerns cut across London’s economy generally as science overlaps with industry and environment, with international standards being vital to operation. The Crick says:
- We must be able to recruit and retain the very best scientists, whatever country they come from.
- Movement from country to country must be simple in order to enable the collaboration between scientists that is essential for discovery science.
- We must negotiate the best possible access to EU research funding
We must be able to recruit and retain the very best scientists, whatever country they come from, including freedom of movement for international students.
The risks can be illustrated by what happened to Switzerland.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU but since 1992 has obtained full access to Framework Programmes, as part of agreements that also guarantee free movement of persons, contributing to the FP budget alongside other EU members
In 2014, a popular vote to limit migration there was passed by a margin of 50.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent. When the Swiss government was then unable to commit to free movement, Switzerland was suspended from access to the biggest ever EU Research and Innovation programme.
Switzerland was suspended from access to Horizon 2020. The Swiss were also not included in Erasmus+. They chose to ensure continuation of the scheme by paying nationally both for students leaving and for those coming in (thus paying double what they would as a member of the international programme).
Switzerland also funds Swiss participants in EU collaborative programmes directly at national level, requiring parallel domestic administration and an agreement to accept all funding decisions made in Brussels, effectively losing control of its national science budget.
This is why the lack of a plan B for London and the UK life science sector is of great concern and why I would welcome the Assembly’s endorsement of my proposal in this motion, that the Mayor and the Chair of the Assembly should write a joint letter to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Exiting the European Union to seek reassurances from the Government that London’s life science sector will be protected as part of any Brexit negotiations.