This year, I was lucky enough to attend my first parliamentary links day. The largest science event in the Houses of Parliament, this day is held to promote dialogue between parliament and the scientific community. Given the vote to leave the EU less than a week earlier, it couldn’t have been a more interesting time to attend!
The scientific community directly benefit from the EU in terms of funding, collaboration and free movement of people. It was therefore no surprise that this year’s event saw the biggest attendance in history. The event, opened by John Bercow MP (Speaker of the House of Commons), involved opening remarks from Jo Johnson (Minister for Universities and Science) and Nicola Blackwood (Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee). Two panels then followed, and then final speeches were given by Lord O’Neill of Gately, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, and Stephen Metcalfe MP. Bewildered scientists filled the room, all anxious about their now uncertain future, and all speakers tried their best to reassure us.
‘Nothing has changed overnight in legal terms’ said Jo Johnson. MPs agreed that we have a strong country with a resilient history, and are able to pull through. Our science in particular they say is world class, and this can be used to help in our recovery. Many speakers told of reassurance from abroad, recognising the work we do and that they want to continue collaborating. These academic networks can therefore provide an alternative to the political networks, and help to smooth waters. So the message was one of hope and determination, despite the disappointment.
All emphasised that we now need to shout loud to ensure that science is prominent in the negotiations and in particular that the government maintain our overall investment in science. MPs assured us that they will do their best to fight for these things, and they said that we also need to send out the message to connections and networks across the world, that despite this decision Britain is a willing collaborator and welcoming society. Finally, they asked us to think about what we can learn. Although leaving the EU would clearly be bad for science, half of the public still responded with the leave vote. This suggests that science is not important to them, so what can we do now to convince people that science is worth investing in?
I will always remember this day at such an important time in British history. After all the hope given I look forward to seeing what the future holds for UK science!
Amber Abernethie is in the second year of her PhD in Cardiovascular Biology. She is based at the Queens Medical Research Centre (University of Edinburgh) but is originally from Cleethorpes, England.
Following the referendum result on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) the Society for Endocrinology urges the UK government to ensure that free movement of students, researchers and clinicians between the UK and other EU countries and full access to, and participation in, the EU research infrastructure is preserved. We strongly believe that the free movement of labour is essential to the delivery of care within the National Health Service (NHS) and to ensure that the UK continues to be a world leader in international scientific research. The full statement is available on our website.