Brexit Committee Hears Evidence In Cambridge

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The Committee for Exiting the EU met in Cambridge and heard evidence from Professor Greg Hannon, Director, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute; Professor Eilís Ferran, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Institutional International Relations, Cambridge University; Dr Andy Williams, Vice-President of Research & Development, MedImmune and Cambridge Transition Team Leader, AstraZeneca; and Michael Lawrence, Business Development Director, Deimos UK.

We heard about the concerns of the research sector over Brexit. You can read my questions below. 

Stephen Kinnock: Just out of interest, have you done any assessment of what the cost may be in terms of time and resource, opportunity cost and financially, of having to create a separate regulatory regime for the UK to somehow disentangle us from the current deeply intertwined UK/EU regulatory regimes? In the scenario planning that you have done, I am just wondering if there is any definition of what that actual cost would be in tangible terms.

Dr Williams: It is difficult to do when the first thing we are asking for is certainty to know what the future relationship is going to be. We know some basic building blocks, like establishing a lab in the EU that can do GCP and GxP-type activities, but until we have that certainty—businesses are very good at this: “Tell us what the rules are, and we will go and figure out how do to them”. There is only so much you can do theoretically until you know what the rules are.

Professor Hannon: I have been informed by my policy adviser that CRUK is actually commissioning research in this area, trying to calculate what the financial impacts will be, but I think you brought up a really important point on opportunity cost. I guess I keep harping on on this. The opportunity to participate in the EU intellectual environment and in the EU clinical environment is absolutely critical and has to continue. But there is also financial opportunity. There are clinical trials that are happening on this site that gather significant European funding. There is also going to be a cost to system with the loss of those. Particularly with the breast cancer trial, as that would not have happened without €1.6 million in European funding. We have costs associated not only with the establishment and different regulatory network, but we have opportunities that will be lost and trials that we just will not participate in.

Stephen Kinnock: One final question; you, I am sure, have been following the debate about what the future relationship between the UK and the EU could or should be with great interest and—this is a personal view—it seems to be boiling down to a choice between what people are calling a Canada-based model or a Norway-based model. The Canada-based model is very deeply integrated in terms of trading goods but not so much in terms of services and some of the regulatory alignment that we are talking about here, and the Norway model is where the European Economic Area, EEA, countries are pretty much aligned with most of the acquis communautaire and all of these regulations and directives that we at talking about today. If you were advising the British Government right now as we go into this critical phase of the Brexit negotiations, would you be pushing for a Canada model or for a Norway model?

Professor Ferran: The Canada model does not work for us, because it does not address the issues that we have. Of those choices, we would definitely be advocating a Norway model, which would keep us in all of the funding programmes and would ensure student mobility and researcher mobility as well. But, of course, that means we would be assuming free movement, which would be part of the Norway model. If that is not politically achievable, we would want to be as close to that as we can get by a bespoke deal, keeping us in FP9 as an associated country. If we cannot get that, then we would want whatever the UK puts in place by way of alternative funding to be not just at the monetary level comparable to ERC funding, but also capture the really crucial thing about European funding and the ERC in particular, which is if you get an ERC grant you have won a competition against the best in the world. Anything the UK does would need to deliver that sort of genuinely international excellence as well.

Dr Williams: Without looking behind to my policy adviser, I am pretty confident that we have not taken a view on that. I would come back to something I said before, which was that we need regulatory certainty so we can plan for the future. Obviously, continued membership of the EMA or harmonisation is key for us but so is smooth supply; so, trade as well to an extent. In global supply of medicines that supply chain just goes backwards and forwards all over the place. It would take a lot of work to unpick that if we had barriers to the supply of materials between the UK and Europe—that is probably a bit of both, isn’t it?

Professor Hannon: Again, just to echo Professor Ferran in a way, certainly I think we would prefer a model where we maintained as much of our ability to recruit the top-tier global talent as is possible. I think that the point made about FP9 is right on the money, and I think that there is evidence that we as a research enterprise compete extremely well amongst the best in the world. In fact, the UK trials disproportionately to its population from the ERC granting system, and so although we are not the largest country, we have been exceptionally successful and are generally at the top of the list for getting grants from ERC that support individual science. Then, if you look at the nationality breakdown within that group from the UK that gets these grants, it is very mixed. It is about 50%—there is about equal representation of UK citizens and EU citizens—which says that not only are we competing in the ERC granting system with the best in the world but we have attracted researchers to the UK that are of that calibre from Europe.

Michael Lawrence: We definitely need freedom of movement. We need the best possible access to the single market. I am not sure if the Norway model is better for that. We need access to the Horizon 2020 programme, and we need access to the European Union space programmes. I think all of those things are not delivered either by a Canada or Norway agreement; they are something different, and they are much closer to today’s situation.