At the beginning of March 2016 celebrated scientist Stephen Hawking joined another 150 fellows of the Royal Society in signing a letter backing the campaign for Britain to ‘stay in’ the EU and stating that Brexit would be a disaster for UK science:
“We now recruit many of our best researchers from continental Europe, including younger ones who have obtained EU grants and have chosen to move with them here.Being able to attract and fund the most talented Europeans assures the future of British science and also encourages the best scientists elsewhere to come here.”
The letter goes on to say that
“If the UK leaves the EU and there is a loss of freedom of movement of scientists between the UK and Europe, it will be a disaster for UK science and universities. Investment in science is as important for the long-term prosperity and security of the UK as investment in infrastructure projects, farming or manufacturing; and the free movement of scientists is as important for science as free trade is for market economics.”
This letter however was not the first occasion when British scientists have clearly stated their preference for Britain to remain in the EU in fact many of them had joined in the Scientists for EU campaign (http://scientistsforeu.uk/) deploying a significant website presence and very active in social media and events. Scientists for EU was initiated by Dr. Mike Galsworthy & Dr. Rob Davidson on May 8, 2015 immediately after the last UK general election when a Conservative win insured that would a referendum on UK's membership of the EU would indeed be held. It now bolsters an impressive advisory board comprising “some of the UK’s leading national figures in research and innovation policy alongside key representatives of academic and business pro-EU campaigns”. As its website indicates,
Scientists for EU will campaign for continued EU membership and will communicate the current and future benefits of the EU to the UK via its impact on our science capacity. We will also communicate why this in turn is important to our jobs, prosperity and quality of life.
Its members’ decision to focus on science and innovation is grounded on three key reasons:
“The first is the importance of science, research and innovation to the UK’s economic future. The second is that science is one of the EU’s greatest success stories and a key boost to our national innovation capacity. The third is that modern science and technology tackle our global challenges through international frameworks.”
Scientists for EU recently published a “Factsheet” detailing the attitude of Britain’s scientific community at large on this topic:
- An open survey by CaSE/EPC in Dec 2015 found that 93% of research scientists and engineers thought that the EU was a “major benefit” to UK research.
- None of the 132 vice-chancellors represented by Universities UK is advocating leaving. The current and previous two Presidents of the Royal Society have spoken up for EU membership (Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, Sir Paul Nurse, Lord Martin Rees).
- Nature magazine said in Feb 2016 “it is the view of this journal that science, in Britain and elsewhere, would benefit from the United Kingdom remaining as a committed member of the European team.”
- UNESCO said in Nov 2015: “Were the Brexit to become a reality… the UK would lose its driving seat for research and innovation in the EU.”
- Of 72 written submissions to the House of Lords inquiry into EU membership and UK science (published Jan 2016), only two advocate leaving the EU. Both are from campaign groups established to promote leaving the EU.
Both the Scientists for EU campaign and the Royal Society fellows’ letter signed among others by Stephen Hawking show that Britain’s scientific community is strongly in favor of the UK remaining in the EU and is willing to get actively involved in the Brexit referendum campaign to achieve this aim.