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The full text of

Theresa May’s speech at lunchtime on science and industrial strategy is now here, on the Downing Street website. In some respects it was just the standard “Britain is good at science” speech that PMs have been delivering, probably since the time of Walpole. In other respects it was visionary, but over a timescale that makes whatever the government is doing now seem of little relevance. And, perhaps most interestingly, in another respect it was a speech with a solid anti-Brexit message - which, of course, is rather at odds with government policy.


Here are the main points.

  • May said that the UK wanted to remain part of key EU science projects after Brexit and would pay money to do so.

I have already said that I want the UK to have a deep science partnership with the European Union, because this is in the interests of scientists and industry right across Europe.

And today I want to spell out that commitment even more clearly.

The United Kingdom would like the option to fully associate ourselves with the excellence-based European science and innovation programmes – including the successor to Horizon 2020 and Euratom R&T.

It is in the mutual interest of the UK and the EU that we should do so.

Of course such an association would involve an appropriate UK financial contribution, which we would willingly make.

In its report in March the Office for Budget Responsibility said that if the UK wanted to continuing participating in science and education projects like Erasmus, Creative Europe and Horizon 2020 after Brexit, the annual cost would be around £2bn.

  • She said the number of foreign-born researchers in British universities would remain high after Brexit.

And today over half of the UK’s resident researcher population were born overseas. When we leave the European Union, I will ensure that does not change.

It was not clear what exactly May meant by this. There is some evidence that since Brexit non-British EU students have been less willing to embark on post-graduate research in the UK.

  • She said scientific advances are only made through co-operation.

Nothing is achieved in isolation and it is only through co-operation that advances are made. Every great British scientist could only reach new frontiers of invention because they built on the work of others, exchanged ideas with their contemporaries and participated in an international community of discovery.

William Harvey learned medicine at the University of Padua.

The first secretary of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg, was an immigrant from Germany.

The discovery of DNA in Cambridge was the work of an Englishman, Francis Crick; an American, James Watson; a born New Zealander, Maurice Wilkins; and a descendent of Jewish immigrants from Poland, Rosalind Franklin.

Indeed Newton himself put it best when he wrote that, ‘if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’.

This helps to explain why most British scientists opposed Brexit.

  • She announced what she described as four “missions” relating to the four “Grand Challenges” set out in the government’s industrial strategy. They are:

On AI and data

As part of the AI and Data Grand Challenge, the United Kingdom will use data, artificial intelligence and innovation to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia by 2030.

This was trailed overnight.

On health ageing

Through our healthy ageing grand challenge, we will ensure that people can enjoy five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035, whilst narrowing the gap between the experience of the richest and poorest.

We are living longer lives because of medical advances, better drugs, healthier lifestyles, and safer workplaces.

This seemed more a statement about general trends than a detailed impact assessment related to government policy.

On mobility

In the future of mobility grand challenge, we have a mission to put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles and for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040.

This is a statement of current policy.

On clean growth

In the clean growth grand challenge, we will use new technologies and modern construction practices to at least halve the energy usage of new buildings by 2030.

Heating and powering buildings accounts for 40 per cent of our total energy usage.

By making our buildings more energy efficient and embracing smart technologies, we can slash household energy bills, reduce demand for energy, and meet our targets for carbon reduction.

By halving the energy use of new buildings – both commercial and residential – we could reduce the energy bills for their occupants by as much as 50 per cent.

And we will aim to halve the costs of reaching the same standard in existing buildings too.

This is aspirational, although Downing Street says it is backed by £170m of public money, as well as £250m of private investment, through the Transforming Construction Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

  • She said Britain was “in pole position” to benefit from the technological revolution.

This technological revolution presents huge opportunities for countries with the means to seize them.

And Britain is in pole position to do just that. We are ranked first in the world for research into the defining technologies of the next decade, from genomics and synthetic biology, to robotics and satellites.

With 1 per cent of the world’s population, we are home to 12 of the top 100 universities.

And London is Europe’s leading tech start-up cluster, attracting more venture capital investment than any other city.

  • She said the government had got a target of getting public and private spending on R&D investment (research and development) up to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

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    Source : https://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/live/2018/may/21/brexit-northern-ireland-voters-sure-hard-border-would-provoke-violence-report-says-politics-live?page=with:block-5b02c7d5e4b0a1f8347700a0

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