It's looking more and more likely that several of the promises that were made during the Referendum campaign are not likely to be fulfilled – most notably the £350m to the NHS and having an Australian style Points Based immigration system.
This week saw a letter from the Japanese government that made clear the risks to our country of doing a quick deal with the EU that doesn’t involve keeping full access to the Single Market, investment and the availability of labour. The letter touches on every pillar of the upcoming negotiations concluding, “it is desirable that the current business environment in Europe be maintained as much as possible.”
It is essential that we stay within the single market. Protecting jobs and prosperity must be at the heart of the upcoming Article 50 negotiations.
I had meetings with the new CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Agency, Ian Chapman to discuss the future of the Joint European Torus research project. Based in Culham, JET is the largest EU science investment in the UK, and second largest across Europe.
It is at the cutting edge of developing safe, renewable energy, and has created a centre for scientific excellence which has attracted the world's best scientists to live and work in the UK. It is the only project of its kind in the world currently operating, and is immensely important for the future of jobs, investment, and excellence in the UK science sector.
However, the vote on the EU referendum has put this at risk, as it is funded by the EU's science programme. A recently signed deal between the EU & JET runs out in 2018, after which there is no guarantee of funding. Without this funding the project cannot continue and the scientists and expertise will be lost to the UK.
This is one of the many large, crucial projects in the UK that is not covered by Philip Hammond's guarantee earlier this month to underwrite competitive science grants when we leave the EU. It is not a competitive grant, simply a contract with the EU to conduct research on their behalf. Therefore the future of the project is incredibly insecure. I discussed possible answers to this issue with Ian, and the need for the government to step up to protect this project and its relationship with the EU.
I hosted a visit of Gibraltar students in the parliament this week to discuss the future of Gibraltar after the referendum. Many were proud Remain campaigners who had worked on the Stronger In campaign, and were both bitterly disappointed by the result and scared for the future of their country.
Gibraltar voted 96% to remain in the EU in the referendum, only 800 people voted to leave, and yet being forced to leave by the UK jeopardises the future of this territory. The open border with Spain has allowed Gibraltar's financial industry to flourish and it depends on the 20,000 – 30,000 Spaniards that cross over the border to work in their industries every day. The Gibraltar government is quite clear that if the border with Spain becomes hard, the future of their most successful industries and the basis of Gibraltar's prosperity is at extreme risk.
When Spain joined the EU in the 70s, it was forced to open what had been a closed border with Gibraltar as part of the joining agreement. This is the only reason that free movement across the Gibraltar border is possible. Without Britain in the EU, Spain is no longer legally forced to keep the border open, and they have shown every sign that they will close it at the first opportunity. This would be bad for Gibraltar and be bad for Britain.
There was a debate in the Horizontal Working Group B this week on developments on the EU Own Resources (the way the EU Budget is financed). This included a presentation by Mr Ivailo Kalfin, Member of the High Level Group on Own-Resources tasked with finding new ways to finance the European Project. One issue that came out clearly was the difficulty for ordinary citizens in understanding the EU Budget and that the current system of accounting for net balances is misleading, allowing Eurosceptics to argue we do not get more from our EU membership than we put in. It is this presentation of the budget which allowed Eurosceptics in the EU Referendum campaign and before to twist and misrepresent the EU budget. The £350 million a week figure the leave campaign pushed was a blatant lie and not something any Government will be able to deliver on. We are awaiting concrete proposals from the High Level Group as they may impact the UK even when we have officially left the European Union.
I met with Universities UK and with the UK Research Office to discuss the impact of the referendum result on universities, staff and students. It is clear they are already feeling the effects.
Researchers are already being rejected and removed from joint European projects because of uncertainty over the time of the UK's departure. Universities cannot tell new students starting this year and next year what fees they will have to pay over the course of their degrees because EU students who currently pay local fees may soon be classed as international students. Enrolment for the next academic year opened in most universities last Tuesday, and universities expect to see a significant drop in applications due to the uncertainty. Universities UK believe that this drop is not likely to be compensated by international students as the market for international admissions has had no significant change in circumstances. The effects of Brexit are only being felt by EU & UK students.
However, UUK did note that a recent survey of non-British academic staff and students showed that they perceived the UK as a significantly less welcoming place to live and work since the Referendum vote. This may have an impact on future admissions, and is something we should be very concerned about.
I spoke at a panel on Citizen Science and the importance of using science engagement with the public as a way to educate and improve the lives of everyone. In particular I focussed on the potential for addressing the gender gap in STEM. Science has traditionally been seen as a boys subject at school and this has led to a tradition of girls engaging less actively in science classes and dropping the subjects far quicker than boys do. What this leads to is a sector dominated by men, and with the absence of positive female role models, this becomes a self-reinforcing cycle. Citizen science and science becoming vogue, through outreach programmes like Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe, which became the BBC's highest itunes download ever when first released, means that girls get to experience the job of science at an earlier age, making it more likely they will take that subject through their educational career. Developing more interactive and engaging projects for women and girls in STEM subjects would be a small but important way of addressing the gender gap in this area.
I gave a speech to the European Manufacturer's Forum on the trust gap between consumers and companies when buying products online, and the need for both sides to address this issue. I discussed some of the reasons why and how industry could help with the trust gap to ensure that consumers were getting the most information and the best deal, which would go a long way to addressing the problem.