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Martin McKee

Martin McKee

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Comments (1)

  • Comment on: How the exit of the UK from the European Union could affect healthcare, science and research

    Martin McKee's comment 18 MAY 2016 19:10

    It is unfortunate that Mr Martin adopts the usual approach by supporters of Brexit by making ad hominen attacks on those who support remaining in the EU. It seems that those of us who have direct experience of working with the European Union are to be disbelieved because we are in some way tainted by association with those awful Eurocrats.

    It is true that I did not add extensive references to my piece, in part because I cited other papers that were themselves reviews that are extensively referenced. However, I would suggest that this is preferable to citing numerous references in ways that are misleading.

    It may help readers if I go through the key points of Mr Martin’s paper:

    “the Remain campaign has chosen to mention science and the NHS only occasionally”

    Not true. There are groups dedicated to both science and the NHS campaigning for remaining in the EU. Scientists4EU has the largest following on social media of any of the sectoral groups campaigning to remain, while Healthierin.EU has 21,000 followers on Facebook (and 6,000 on Twitter. Healthierin.EU mobilised almost 200 signatories for a letter to the Times countering the myths being peddled by VoteLeave, including medical peers, presidents of Royal Colleges, and front line health professionals. The group campaigning to leave struggled to gather 50 signatories, none of whom had occupied national leadership roles and many of whom were retired. In fact, those of us who support Remain know that science and the NHS are among our strongest arguments, with Universities UK, representing all British universities, strongly in favour of remaining.

    as well as 150 Fellows of the Royal Society

    “EU membership risks reducing the UK’s ability to recruit talented staff from outside Europe”

    Not a shred of truth. The UK decides who, from outside the UK, that it allows to work here. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the UK.

    “ to build partnerships with non-EU universities and firms”

    Not true. UK researchers are already free to collaborate with anyone they want, from anywhere in the world. However, as those of us who have held a US NIH grant knows, the UK partner is considerably disadvantaged compared to the US partners, unlike with EU funding, where we are equals.

    “A vote to leave, by contrast, is to a vote to place health professionals and scientists at the centre of a national mission to be the world’s leading country for science and innovation, with regulation, immigration and funding policies that support this goal.”

    This is hard to reconcile with a poll showing 93% of scientists want to remain.

    “If Britain leaves the EU, we will continue to be funded by and co-operate in European higher education and science programmes such as Horizon 2020”

    Not true. We might do, but only if we pay to do so and if the other member states agree. This statement is also incompatible with the later statement that we would save large sums by leaving the EU as at least some of that purported saving would be required as the price of our continued participation.

    “Our students will still take full part in the Erasmus scheme”

    Not true. We might be but, once again, it requires agreement by other member states and that we pay to participate. By opting out of free movement of people, Switzerland has been excluded from Erasmus. As one Swiss academic noted: "Being kicked out of that scheme represents a real handicap," says Andreas Mortensen, Vice-Provost of Switzerland's prestigious Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

    “Switzerland is associated to the main parts of Horizon 2020”

    This is misleading. Switzerland has experienced severe problems

    “the UK may … have a more influential role in the programme after Brexit”

    How can this statement possibly be true as we would no longer be present in the Council of ministers or European Parliament when it is agreed? Readers may feel that this shows that the author simply doesn’t understand the EU.

    “ Vote Leave is explicitly clear that a post-EU Britain would make science a national focus, using our competitive advantage of world class universities and the NHS, advanced value add industries such as bio technology and pharmaceuticals”

    This is totally misleading and cannot be reconciled with the many statements from leading pharmaceutical companies that they would reduce investment in the UK.

    “We can have, as the US does, an automatic postgraduation visa for STEM graduates”

    This statement may be true, but it is impossible to reconcile with the many statements from Brexit supporters that they would cut immigration. This statement says, in terms, that there would be no limit on STEM graduates, of which there are hundreds of thousands in the rest of the world. Does Brexit mean virtually unlimited immigration by such individuals. This must be clarified if it is not to be misleading.

    “This risk is demonstrated by the EU’s disastrous clinical trials directive”

    This is a classic example of using partial statements to mislead. Everyone agrees that the original clinical trial regulation got the balance between protecting research subjects and ease of conducting trials. However, the EU listened and the new regulation has been described by researchers as “fantastic”. It is totally disingenuous not to mention the revision. Mr Martin is quoting statements that are of no more than historical interest. We have now moved far on.

    “the decision to continue to subsidise tobacco”

    Not true. There have been no direct tobacco subsidies since 2010
    The author refers to a vote in the European Parliament that was not agreed by the Council of Ministers

    “Leaving would mean no reduction in EU funding, but would save our £9bn to £13bn per year net and £19bn gross contribution”

    By qualifying this statement with “depending on how much wider EU spending is kept on” it is transformed from one that is false to one that is simply misleading. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, widely regarded as the gold standard, estimates that there may be no extra funds to be spent, and indeed, consistent with every serious economic forecast, the damage to the UK’s economy would more than cancel out any saving that did accrue. Norway, outside the EU, contributes about as much per capita to the EU budget as we do.

    It is unfortunate that Mr Martin continues in this vein in his response to me posted above. If he is privy to information that the TTIP talks have collapsed then he is remarkably well informed. It is certainly in difficulties as the EU is standing up to the USA. However, with respect to Brexit, readers should recall that the UK would have agreed to the US position without safeguards.

    His optimism about the pharmaceutical industry in the UK post Brexit is not widely shared.

    Maybe Mr Martin could point us to a major pharmaceutical company that supports Brexit?

    When Boris Johnson appeared before the Treasury Select Committee to set out his arguments for Brexit, the chair, Andrew Tyrie MP concluded “That’s all very interesting, Boris. But none of it is actually true, is it?” These are words that those of us supporting Remain seem increasingly to be using.

    Martin McKee

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