In the UK referendum on 23 June 2016 the British electorate delivered a majority vote in favour of leaving the EU. The margin was small—52 to 48%—but the result was clear. Since then, nothing has been clear.
The roiling waters of UK politics have delivered a new Prime Minister, Theresa May, and a new conservative government, but the flow of events remains turbulent. Amid the ongoing confusion over exactly how the referendum result will reconfigure Britain's relationship with the EU—which looks likely to stretch well beyond 2017—it is difficult to judge the impact on the future of UK and European science. The PM's announcement that “Brexit means Brexit” may have relieved the leavers in her party, but has done little to reassure anyone else. Her new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is confident that a “balance can be struck” between access to the single market and freedom of movement, but has yet to win the confidence of Paris or Berlin. Boris's soberer younger brother, Jo Johnson, has been re‐appointed as Minister for Universities and Science, providing a degree of continuity. He has made reassuring noises in the aftermath of the referendum, but his refusal to answer questions on Brexit at the recent ESOF 2016 meeting in Manchester was a disappointment.
During the referendum campaign, the pro‐Brexit lobby group Scientists for Britain confidently asserted the UK could enjoy full access to the EU research ecosystem as an associated state rather than a full member, just like Norway or Switzerland. Unfortunately, this is as fanciful as Johnson's “pro having my cake and pro eating it” policy on the EU. It overlooks the crucial fact that the Norwegians and Swiss have access only by adhering to EU rules on freedom of movement. Switzerland will lose these privileges if it does not reverse a 2014 …
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