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‘Urgent’ action needed to prevent severe Brexit damage to UK universities

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UK-based universities and scientific researchers could be severely impacted by Brexit without urgent action from ministers according to the chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee said.

Norman Lamb said there was a “great danger” that scientific collaboration could be put at risk because of uncertainty about European research funding.

Ministers have insisted that the Treasury will underwrite European Union funding for research projects even if they continue beyond the date of Brexit in March 2019 but Lamb warned that the Government needed to give greater certainty about the longer-term arrangements.

Lamb, a Liberal Democrat, said his committee would not be “obsessed” by Brexit, but leaving the EU had major implications for UK science.

It was “really important for science to have a voice in Parliament” on the sector’s concerns, he said, including what would happen after the Horizon 2020 programme ends in three years and the new immigration rules come into effect.

He said: “Issues about research funding, Horizon 2020 and its successor programmes, the movement of people - attracting the best talent from Europe and beyond - collaboration across Europe, these are all vital things.

“It maybe naive of me to say this but it ought not to be controversial, it ought to be something where actually Brexiteers and Remainers can unite.

“It’s just in this country’s interest that we do everything we can to facilitate the best possible science.

“I have written about Horizon 2020 to the government because research institutions and universities are starting to shape their plans for bidding and they may want to collaborate with Berlin or wherever it might be and we don’t yet know whether we will be part of a successor programme.”

Lamb said there was a risk that problems would be caused “not through any ill-will, but (because) the Government just acts too late”.

The senior MP said he was also keen to examine the role of chief scientific advisers across government.

“Why is there not a chief scientific adviser in the Brexit department? That makes no sense to me,” he said.

Other investigations set to be carried out by the committee include examining the “use and abuse” of algorithms, work on genomics and genome editing and an inquiry into research integrity.

Former health minister Lamb was speaking after controversy about the membership of his committee after the first seven members appointed by Labour and the Conservatives were male.

Lamb said the Conservatives had now elected a female MP - Vicky Ford - to sit on the committee and he was “encouraged” that Labour would also put forward a woman.

The Liberal Democrat said other select committees had similar problems with a lack of female representation.

“From my point of view I want to ensure that some good comes out of this. By exposing this flaw in the way in which select committees are made up, how the process of how it happens, we can actually agree a better way.”

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