Keeping the chemistry right between the UK and Europe after Brexit

Ministers are making the right noises about our relationship with EU science bodies, but questions remain, says Elisabethann Wright.

The government's recent paper on science and innovation focused on the relationships between researchers in the UK and other EU member states, which it is hoped will continue after Britain leaves the union.

However, the paper also discusses possible future bilateral relationships. It acknowledges the importance of Horizon 2020, the EU's €80 billion research and innovation programme, committing the government to underwriting related bids while the UK is a member of the EU.

However, it is unclear what role the UK will have in programmes such as Horizon 2020 after Brexit. Britain plays an important part in Horizon 2020 projects, and any relationships mentioned in the paper.

There was less detail on the future relationship between the UK and the European Medicines Agency than some would have hoped for. The government does cite current areas of co-operation between the agency and regulatory bodies around the world as inspiration for a future relationship between the UK and the EU. But it does not address the validity of the central marketing authorisations held by UK entities, which is arguably one of the most important concerns for continued patient access to medicinal products.

The position paper expands on several possible structures for future collaboration between the UK and EU after Brexit and draws on existing examples of "third country" participation  in various existing programmes.

This might provide some comfort to researchers that even without a special deal it will be possible for the UK to collaborate with the EU and participate. While it is in Britain's gift to determine how it will treat EU research, authorisations and licences in the future, it will need the agreement of the remaining 27 EU states for this to work on a mutual basis.

Moreover, it is worth noting that the location of the European Medicines Agency and the future regulatory framework between the UK and EU is far from settled. Itis not surprising, then, that the British government has again confirmed its commitment to carrying on working closely with its EU partners "in the interests of public health and safety".

The future of free movement of British and EU citizens is another contentious subject that will be relevant in the life sciences field, which relies heavily on migration of skilled workers. The government paper states that Britain will "continue to welcome the brightest and best", with migration between the UK and the EU continuing after freedom of movement ends.

While this is a positive message for the research community, it is not yet clear what will be agreed and how that deal will work in practice.

Elisabethann Wrightis a partner at the London office of the transatlantic lawfirm Hogan LovelIs. Helen Kimberley, a senior associate at the firm, contributed to this article.

This article first appeared on The Times' Brief Premium website, on 15th September 2017, and is accessible online here.

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