The government of Boris Johnson will be remembered, in addition to the rest, for the disaster caused by Brexit to scientific research, which – ironically – came to fruition just hours before BoJo resigned as leader of the Tories. In fact, on 29 June it became known that over 140 British projects sent to tender by the European Research Council will not be taken into consideration, because the respective coordinators did not adhere to the condition set by Europe, namely the transfer, with the entire group of research, in one of the EU countries. Only about twenty accepted.
The situation actually started to screw up a few months ago. In fact, the previous agreements envisaged, for Great Britain, a compromise similar to the one in force for countries such as Norway, Turkey and Israel which, having paid a contribution (in the English case it would have been 15 billion euros for seven years) Horizon Europe (which currently has a budget of 95 billion euros), can continue to conduct research in the situation they prefer, that is, both at home and abroad, in a European partner country. But that also presupposed compliance with the other Brexit-related agreements.
One of which – perhaps the most sensitive – is that on Northern Ireland, signed at the time by Great Britain, which entered into force in 2021, but the subject of a law proposed by Johnson’s government at the beginning of 2022 and subsequently approved. by Parliament which foresees a unilateral violation. A fact which, consequently, involves the cancellation of the exceptions on other subjects such as research.
Today British researchers can have access to European funds, but only if they decide to spend the money received in a community laboratory: a demeaning obligation, for many, if not unacceptable (which is also imposed on Switzerland, a country with which they were not signed specific agreements for time). And this is increasingly isolating a scientific community that for decades has been the most important in Europe, and has been an irresistible magnet for scholars of the most diverse backgrounds and disciplines.
But isolation, in research, is equivalent to euthanasia: already today not only British scientists are in great difficulty, but the whole country is much less attractive than before, for the rest of the scientific world. Before the resignation announced in these hours, Science recalls, the government was trying to run for cover, and had expressed its intention to finance the projects sent to Horizon, which should have taken place on British soil. Furthermore, he had promised the launch of a national plan similar to those of the European Research Council, if not of Horizon Europe: an idea in itself absurd, according to many, because European projects are all focused on international collaborations, and have a strong economic that no national plan will ever have.