The Brexit vote, 5 years on - what do we know so far?

This note summarises the evidence so far of the impacts on Brexit on Scotland. It sets out early evidence related to areas such as trade, the workforce and EU programmes.


The impact on research in Scotland has already begun to be felt, although it will take time to see the longer term impacts and trends.

After Horizon 2020 launched in 2014, almost 755 million euros of funding in research and innovation was secured by Scottish organisations. That was around 11% share of the UK's Horizon 2020 funding. Scotland's universities won over 75% or €572 million of our total funds won[31].

Scotland's typical annual share of Horizon 2020 funding declined in the remaining years of Horizon 2020 following the Brexit Referendum in 2016, mainly due to the uncertainty about future UK participation in Horizon Europe. Given the high overall amount of funds won annually by Scotland as one of the top European research nations, funding and key opportunities for Scotland with the EU science base were lost or weakened.

Public comments from the sector suggest that EU partners may have been nervous about including Scottish partners in research consortia despite their ability to continue under Horizon 2020 grants at the time. The end of freedom of movement for researchers is a further difficulty. The sector in Scotland has pressed the UK Government to ease mobility for EU-based researchers through the UK visa system – so far without success. Scottish Government initiatives to explain to EU citizens that they are genuinely welcome in Scotland, as well as support provided to this group by the Scottish Government are therefore important. And of course, the immediate post Brexit Referendum years have seen fewer opportunities for Scottish-based early career researchers.

There have also been measurable impacts on staffing and the important pipeline of research students from Europe who contribute to the next generation of research leaders in Scotland. For example, 3% of all staff at Scottish Higher Education Institutes solely involved in research were funded by EU government bodies in 2018-19, down 6% from the previous year. EU research PhDs in Scotland dropped almost 7% between 2015-16 and 2019-20.

Longer term, participation in Horizon Europe may stabilise and recover as long as the UK maintains participation at association level – although decreased mobility with Europe in terms of research staff and research student numbers will persist if policies restricting freedom of movement continue. The impact of Brexit on research in Scotland is already being felt.


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