RAS Statement on the Outcome of the EU Referendum in the UK

Press Release From: Royal Astronomical Society
Posted: Friday, June 24, 2016

The referendum on 23 June on membership of the United Kingdom in the European Union resulted in a vote to leave.

Although the RAS made no formal recommendation to its members, evidence from groups like the Campaign for Science and Engineering suggests that an overwhelming majority of scientists and engineers -- including the astronomers, space scientists and geophysicists that we represent -- were in favor of continued EU membership.

Now that the result is clear, albeit by a narrow margin, the whole scientific community, including the RAS, will need to consider the implications for research in the UK.

Exactly what the departure of the UK from the EU means for academic and industrial research is not clear. We would however urge the UK Government to consider the following points in its negotiations on leaving the EU:

* UK and European science benefit from the free movement of people between countries, something that has allowed UK research to become world leading. Although for example membership of the European Space Agency and European Southern Observatory is not contingent on EU membership, these organizations depend on international recruitment made easier by straightforward migration between countries. We therefore urge the Government to ensure it remains straightforward for UK scientists to travel and work in EU countries, and for EU scientists to come to the UK.

* The EU has fostered numerous collaborations in science and engineering, including programs supported by the European Research Council, and the overarching Horizon 2020 Framework, and the UK has been a major beneficiary of these programs. The Society asks the Government to continue UK participation in all of these, and to make the necessary financial contributions to allow UK groups to lead bids for these funds.

* The Leave campaign indicated that it would make good any shortfall in science funding that results from departure from the EU. The Government should now examine this pledge, and work to ensure that UK science continues to receive the support anticipated before the vote took place.

* Beyond the financial benefits, EU-supported collaborations enable multinational teams to tackle major scientific challenges, in both applied and pure disciplines. The Government should work with the 27 EU members to safeguard the right of UK scientists to continue these productive relationships, for the good of scientific output and wider society.

Professor John Zarnecki, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society, commented: “We must remember that whatever happens, science has no boundaries. It is vital that we do not give the message, particularly to our younger colleagues, in the UK and beyond that our country is not a good place in which to do scientific research, however uncertain the economic and political environment is. I have been privileged during my career to have worked in a research environment in Europe which has had few borders for either people or ideas. We must strive to make sure that these rights are not taken away -- this would be enormously to the detriment of UK society.”

Media Contact:
Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
+44 (0)7802 877 699 (cell)

Science Contact:
Prof. John Zarnecki
President, Royal Astronomical Society

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS,, founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4,000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

The RAS accepts papers for its journals based on the principle of peer review, in which fellow experts on the editorial boards accept the paper as worth considering. The Society issues press releases based on a similar principle, but the organizations and scientists concerned have overall responsibility for their content.

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