This is a companion question to Why do most scientists think Brexit is bad for British science?. Based on this meta discussion, it was suggested that I ask a new question about potential upsides of Brexit...

From the answers to that question about Brexit, it sounds like there are no upsides to British science. However, there are still roughly 12% of UK researchers who think the UK should exit the EU. It seems that these 12% must see something positive from Brexit, otherwise they would not be voting to leave.

What could these positives be? Or are there no positives, and they are just more optimistic that the UK government will provide the political support to let British science emerge unscathed and / or they think the gains elsewhere outweigh the losses?

Only thing I've seen about this is Royal Society president Venkatraman Ramakrishnan saying:

Will Brexit open up any new opportunities for UK science? Are there burdensome EU regulations you’ll be glad to see go? Will collaboration with scientists in non-EU countries, like the US or China, become easier? Will tranches of non-EU funding become accessible?

The only thing I can say is that if you have new technologies and you need to make regulations where current regulations don’t exist, then it’s easier for a single country. Britain is very rational about balancing risks and benefits. Its easier for one country to move fast. This is a sort of theoretical, possibly marginal benefit. Whereas the actual risks and drawbacks of Brexit are much more real and immediate.

However this sounds extremely marginal. Unless these 12% of UK researchers know in advance that they're going to come up with groundbreaking new technologies for which current regulations don't exist, it's hard to believe that 12% of UK researchers would vote to leave for this reason.

I am interested in all positives, short-term or long-term.

  • If anyone thinks they can word the question better so the core remains but it's less loaded, please go right ahead and edit the question (this applies to the original question as well). – Allure Jul 28 '18 at 20:34
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    For comments about this question, please go to this meta discussion – StrongBad Jul 30 '18 at 14:31
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    Not sure how this comment relates to the Controversial Post policy, but it isn't really an answer... simply a note that if 12% of UK scientists think that Brexit should happen, while they presumably believe that that is advantageous for the UK, it doesn't necessarily mean that they think it will have advantages for UK science (maybe, in their view, other upsides of Brexit outweigh detriment to science) – Flyto Aug 5 '18 at 6:21
  • Open to changing the title to "Why did some scientists vote for Brexit if there are no upsides for British science?" or something like that (c.f. the bounty notice). – Allure Aug 6 '18 at 5:52
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    "British posts for British researchers" - Not even close in terms of brutality, but I suggest investigating the "advantages" of the "purification" of German scientific establishment from "unwanted elements" before the war. German science was internationally leading before, it fell into mediocrity (despite occasional successes) after and is only slowly rebuilding its position with nowhere the overall effect. For a localised study, see Göttingen before and after the war. I do not think the effect will be as bad in Britain, of course, as emigration is mostly voluntary, but the tendency remains. – Captain Emacs Aug 6 '18 at 6:55

How someone votes is not purely based on their job, so trying to makexplain useful inferences about how an academic scientist thinks Brexit will affect science based on voting patterns is probably a worthless endeavor. Had the politicians promised massive increases in science funding as part of Brexit, it is not clear to me how many academic scientists would have changed their votes. The vast majority of academics object to Brexit for a number of reasons not directly related to their jobs.

As for the effect on academic science, the one major benefit will likely be an increase in the number of full fee paying international students as EU students will presumably not get discounted fees.

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    I don't think your second paragraph is correct. EU applicants are already dropping in numbers, as are other international students. I think it's more likely there will be fewer international students in total, and hence reduced fees. – Jessica B Aug 6 '18 at 6:02
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    Also about the second paragraph: Remember that in multiple EU countries, studying is free. So students might not be able to afford the non-discounted fees. Furthermore, EU-grants for student exchanges (e.g. Erasmus) might no longer be applicable, forcing all students but the very rich ones to turn towards other countries. – Dirk Aug 6 '18 at 10:19
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    @DirkLiebhold sure, but there are likely a few "very rich" EU students who will pay full fees. As long as there are enough of them to offset any drop from rrently full fee paying students not wanting to be in the UK, it is nominally a net gain. Further the target number of international students often depends on the number of home/EU students, so an overall drop in student numbers is not awful and makes it easier to hit the target. – StrongBad Aug 6 '18 at 12:52

There are no upsides for British science from Brexit.

This is a corollary of the almost certain fact that there are no upsides for British society from Brexit.

Science funding has never been a priority of the current government and I hardly expect that situation to change once we leave with no deal. In truth, we are cutting off access to collaborations (e.g. ESA) that we can never hope to compete with as a single, tiny nation with a floundering economy.

To understand, then, why in spite of this 12% of UK researchers still voted to Leave, you have to realise that when the referendum was held, a large number of people in the country used their vote as a protest-- against the establishment, against immigration and against the perceived power of the EU parliament over our own.

People were generally misled by self-serving politicians that societal benefits would occur once we left the EU-- more control over our laws for instance, forgetting that we elect MEPs to the European parliament so have just as much say in EU law as our own. They perhaps believed that there would be more money for the NHS, even though the reason the NHS is underfunded is not due to the EU but due to the same Conservative government that has been in power for the last eight years.

I am certain that not even the politicians gunning for Leave actually thought the benefits they claimed would ever happen-- they simply picked the side they thought would gain them votes, and for many Conservative MPs with very right wing, anti-immigration constituencies this was Leave.

For the reasons I have outlined above (and doubtless many more), a person may have decided to vote to leave. The vote was a very personal decision for a lot of people and as Thomas says, scientists are people too. The 12% that you quote likely voted to leave based on non--scientific issues, just as I voted to remain based on non--scientific issues, namely that I believe that a diverse and multicultural society is better and more productive for everyone, I am averse to hatred and xenophobia and I like going on holiday to other EU countries without needing a visa.

If our politicians were capable of thinking about something other than their own ratings in the polls, they might have been able to negotiate a sensible leaving deal, with every eventuality considered and taken care of. In that case, I would be less worried about the effects of leaving on British science.

However, we are now faced with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. The government is trying to hide the fact that it is stockpiling food and mobilising the army to prepare for the worst (presumably they are afraid of rioting and looting).

People's wilful ignorance of the wholly negative effects of Brexit will be sorely tested when food rots in the fields with no EU workers to harvest it, when a black market begins for "luxuries" like cheese and chocolate, and when their relatives die in hospital because their medicine is on the other side of the border.

Society will suffer. Science will suffer.

I am aware that this is an emotive and partisan answer, but Brexit is a very emotional subject for most British people. I am still living in hope that one day soon we will have a general election, form a sensible government and call the whole thing off.

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    I think that rather than hoping for a very slim chance, it might be more worthwhile to start organising to get back in, and rejoin Europe. That would finally eliminate all differences between the UK and the other EU countries – TheWanderer Jul 29 '18 at 13:52
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    Well there are just less than 8 months left, and whatever deal is agreed must be ratified well in advance. What I wanted to say is that if you cancel Brexit now, what would you offer now that it would not happen again in a few years? A UK that is fully committed to the European project, that is, a UK that adopts the Euro, that forfeits the rebate, that joins Schengen, would probably provide that safeguard. – TheWanderer Jul 29 '18 at 13:59
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    Just in case your answer is edited later (by you or anyone else): I'd just like to say I hear you and personally I echo your closing paragraph, even if I am pessimistic about the chances – Yemon Choi Jul 29 '18 at 14:06
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    This sort of answer is why we close primarily opinion-based questions. However, the question was reopened after @astronat and I closed it, so I shall upvote this opinion even though I ordinarily would consider it inappropriate. – Thomas Jul 29 '18 at 16:25
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    @user_of_math I think at this point anyone who is still pro-Brexit is hardly aware of reality, let alone the nationality of the Royal Society president. – astronat Aug 5 '18 at 17:16

Scientists are people too. They may vote for Brexit for non-academic reasons. For a list of (non-academic) reasons in favour of Brexit, see http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/why_vote_leave.html

Many academics may think that Brexit will have minimal impact on academia. The UK government has given assurances that it will make up for any lost EU research funding. And EU research funding is available to some non-EU countries. So perhaps they are won over by non-academic arguments about immigration, costs, trade, and regulation.

Of course, every individual has their own reasons for voting one way or another. Some may just view Brexit as an anti-establishment protest vote. I can only speculate!

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    Maybe off topic but I would like to comment that the Vote Leave campaign have recently been fined for breaking electoral law and the case has been referred to the police, so take anything you read on their website with a pinch of salt. – astronat Jul 28 '18 at 23:22
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    @astronat Yeah, I definitely do not consider these arguments good. If you know of a better resource, I'd happily swap out the link. The more important point is that there are better places to look for non-academic Brexit arguments than academia.se. – Thomas Jul 28 '18 at 23:28
  • It might have minimal impact on academia (I doubt it) but it doesn't look like it will have actual upsides. – user64845 Jul 30 '18 at 20:53

As others have written (and as I wrote here), the short-term prospects for science from Brexit look pretty bleak. However, this question asks for positives.

It seems inevitable that Brexit will necessitate re-evaluation of strategies, systems and infrastructure across the spectrum of science and academia. This will be painful in the short-term, but may stimulate new growth and developments that ultimately turn out to be beneficial.

In particular, it seems likely that any decrease in interaction with the EU will be replaced by stronger links with other scientific 'markets'. It is plausible that governments/funding agencies in non-EU countries will see the 'hole' created by Brexit as an opportunity that can be exploited to support the growth of domestic science, and new partnership opportunities may emerge. In this regard, the UK is fortunate to have a large number of scientists and institutions with world-class reputations.

Of course, none of this is guaranteed to follow from Brexit, and much will depend on future government decisions and policies.

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    Massive emphasis on the last paragraph, I feel... – Flyto Aug 9 '18 at 11:16

As an American academic, I will note that there are significant upsides to Brexit for non-UK science. As denizens of a defensible 'center of the world' for science, British industry has generally looked inward for academic-industry collaboration. In the past year, I have seen a truly stunning number of outward-looking partnerships arise.

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    How does this answer the question? – Yemon Choi Aug 12 '18 at 6:19

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