A year on from the EU referendum, much of the ‘small print’ about Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and future relationships with European partners remains to be worked out.
During this period of negotiation, the expertise of the humanities and social sciences and the British Academy Fellowship can play a key role in untangling some of the complexities of Brexit and its implications at home and overseas.
With its power to the convene some of the world’s leading minds in subjects such as politics, law, economics and languages, the British Academy stands ready to advise the government as it proceeds with negotiations to leave the EU.
Collaboration with our sister academies in these islands is particularly important, and we have been working together to make recommendations on policy issues which will affect us all.
Devolution is a major area where we can draw on the collective expertise of our Fellowships. The British Academy, the Learned Society of Wales, Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh recently published a series of recommendations on the impact of Brexit on the constitutional arrangements within the UK. Westminster is not the only player in the Brexit negotiations, and the complexity of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill demonstrates the importance of close cooperation with devolved nations. Westminster will need to legislate on policies which were previously within the competence of the EU, and which in large part are the responsibility of the devolved administrations. To do this, we will need new ways of working between Westminster and the devolved administrations, and an effective system of intergovernmental relations.
Northern Ireland, the only devolved nation which will share a land border with an EU Member States post-Brexit, is also a special concern, and the academies have stressed the need for creative solutions to sustain cross-border collaboration on the island of Ireland. The British Academy and the Royal Irish Academy have also worked together to convene expert opinion on the questions of UK-Ireland relations.
Another pressing issue for the academies is funding for higher education and research. The UK, and humanities and social science researchers in particular, have done well in winning funding from competitive EU funding programmes. In fact, UK-based researchers in the humanities and social sciences won one third of all European Research Council funding from 2015-17, well above the average for the UK as a whole.
However, it is vital that we continue to maintain a close relationship with EU Member States through programmes such as Horizon 2020, to foster academic collaboration and maintain excellence that the academies exist to champion.
Together the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Irish Academy and the Learned Society of Wales, the British Academy has called on the government to safeguard the UK’s position as a world leader in research. We have asked the government to commit to an agreement on higher education, research and innovation, early in the negotiations.
Academia does not have borders: relationships with EU partners have thrived during UK membership and we must continue to welcome the brightest researchers from Europe and around the world. In several submissions to government select committees on research and innovation and higher education, the British Academy has stressed that the EU has created and enhanced opportunities for international collaboration. We have also called on the government to guarantee a right to remain for all talented EU staff, students and their dependents.
As the home of the outstanding academics in the UK and around the world, the British Academy and its sister academies are uniquely placed to convene expert opinion and provide context and clarity on policy issues - and we stand ready to do so.
Philip Lewis is Head of International Research and Policy at the British Academy.