This week has been extraordinary for UK politics and for the STEM community in particular, with key Brexit votes, a spring statement covering PhD and researcher visas, as well as the ever-popular Voice of the Future and STEM for Britain events. All in all, Westminster has provided an exciting opportunity for Biochemical Society members to spend time in Parliament during this dramatic week.  Here are some of the highlights. A more detailed article can be found on the Biochemist blog.

Voice of the Future

This unique event was held on Tuesday, and turned the tables on MPs and ministers, requiring them to answer questions from students and early career researchers from across STEM disciplines in Select Committee style. We were represented by six biochemists from across the UK. Topics of discussion inevitably included Brexit, alongside air pollution, research funding and widening participation both in research and politics. Several of the panellists emphasised the importance of researchers engaging with politicians.  For more details on the event, see this article by the Royal Society of Biology, or you can listen to a recording on Parliament TV

STEM for Britain

On Wednesday, the annual STEM for Britain poster competition took place. This event is the largest activity that brings scientific research directly into the Houses of Parliament and gives MPs the chance to meet with their constituents and other young researchers to hear about their work.

Dr Mark Roberts, member of the Biochemical Society’s Education Committee and Policy Advisory Panel, was one of the judges in the Biology and Biotechnology section. Commenting on STEM for Britain, he said: 

“It was a pleasure to act as a judge on Wednesday. The posters displayed showed-off the fantastic breadth of research in bioscience! Considering what a busy day it was for them, it was great to see so many MPs come in to chat with scientists and have an insight into UK science.”

For a full list of winners see the STEM for Britain website, or check out #STEM4BRIT19 on twitter.

Spring Statement

Wednesday also saw Philip Hammond give his Spring Statement, in which the exemption of PhD-level occupations from the cap on high-skilled visas from Autumn 2019 was announced. In addition, field-research performed overseas will count as UK residence and can therefore be used by researchers applying for settlement in the UK (Indefinite Leave to Remain).

The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) have been leading the way in calling for these changes. Last year the Biochemical Society co-signed their letter to the Prime Minister with 44 other organisations calling for the removal of the Tier 2 visa cap.

Commenting on these changes, Dr David Pye, Honorary Policy Officer at the Biochemical Society said:

“These changes to visa regulations will hugely benefit UK molecular bioscience and means researchers will no longer be unfairly penalised for conducting work overseas. The steps announced today are welcome news for science and innovation and I hope that the government will continue to consider the sector’s needs in the Immigration Bill currently before parliament. It will be crucial to combine these developments with an open approach to continuing to attract people to work in the UK.”

Also announced in yesterday’s statement was the news that the £700 million package of reforms announced in 2018 to help small firms take on more apprentices will be brought forward to the start of the new financial year.  

Brexit

As the 29 March approaches, here is a brief summary of what happened this week.

Tuesday: MPs decisively rejected the Prime Minister’s deal despite the changes since January.

Wednesday: Parliament voted to avoid the UK exiting the EU. However, it’s important to remember that while it may be influential, this vote was not legally binding and therefore No-Deal remains the legal default unless either a deal or an extension to Article 50 is agreed.  

Thursday: MPs voted in favour of extending Article 50.

The results from this week suggest that the Prime Minister will potentially present her deal to MPs for a third meaningful vote next week. For further information, the BBC have a guide to what might happen next and also have a handy Brexit jargon buster.

The impact on science and innovation of a No-Deal Brexit was highlighted in a recent consultation by the Science and Technology Committee, to which we fed into RSB’s response. CaSE have also done lots of work looking at the impact of Brexit on science and engineering in the UK.

We remain committed to representing the molecular bioscience community in parliament and highlighting the importance of continued close collaboration as Britain prepares to leave the EU. To help us with our work, please get in touch with your experiences. We are particularly interested in any case-studies involving international collaboration.

To hear more about our policy work, and to have the opportunity to feed into our consultation responses join our Policy Network. For more information see our Policy page

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