How often does the obvious comment need to be made? It’s Sunday 11th February and the new UK Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology has only been in the job for a few days.
UK Ministers Michelle Donelan latest utterance is straight out of the failed Brexit playbook. The UK is “ready to go it alone”, she says. Let’s puff up our chests, money is no object, the UK doesn’t need to be part of the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe programme of the EU. Or at least that’s what she and her colleagues seem to be saying.
The rather silly argument is made that the UK will work with the US, Switzerland, and Japan instead. Now, hang about, call me a bit crazy but couldn’t the UK do both?
There’s no way the UK can become a global science powerhouse without working with both the EU and the rest of the world. Well, with a few possible exceptions. Afterall, it would not be wise to be forging research links with Russia at the moment.
Partnerships and collaborations matter so much because so many great ideas are based on the work done by others.
Already the UK is seeing a decline in research students coming from Europe and China. The Home Secretary’s struggles to control migration with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer doesn’t help.
Yes, the UK has a history as an inventor and can be capable in science even if we pull up all the drawbridges but that’s incredibly limiting, commercially crazy and like throwing a damp blanket over future pioneers. Remember young talent is mobile.
I do remember the exit of UK talent that occurred in my student days (1979-82). I’d meet some of them later in my career working in aerospace companies all over the world.
Putting aside all the above, big money matters, but what matters more is opportunity. That is fertile ground for innovation.
Contrary to UK Government Minister’s thinking this has nothing to do with de-regulation either.
Across the Atlantic we have a highly regulated country that still seems to be able to produce innovators that go on to change the world. There are more lawyers per square mile in the US than just about anywhere on Earth but that doesn’t stop that country being an incubator for ground-breaking innovation. [Says me, on my Windows PC with my iPhone charging next to my iPad.]
Today, the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is going to make funding available on a gigantic scale. The UK’s cash-strapped Government can’t match this US effort even if it wanted to do so.
Europe needs to work together. The UK needs to be one of the associated countries to participate in Horizon Europe. The alternative is grim.