Director's Corner

Brexit and Linear Colliders

| 7 July 2016

What will the UK referendum mean for European science? Image: Designed by Freepik

What will the UK referendum mean for European science? Image: Designed by Freepik

By now you are probably tired of hearing about the fall-out from the outcome of the recent UK referendum in which, of the 72% of electors who voted, 52% expressed a preference for the UK to quit the European Union (EU): the “Brexit” option. But I cannot resist the opportunity afforded by this editorial to discuss ramifications of Brexit for our Linear Collider endeavours.

I am far too young to remember the veto of the UK’s original application to join the ‘EEC’ (the old name for the EU) by the French President Charles de Gaulle in 1963. Many historians think that this notorious act laid the foundations for the difficult relationship that the UK has had with the EU for the ensuing 53 years, though history is hardly an exact science. However I do recall the eventual entry of the UK to the EEC in 1973, so I am just old enough to remember life ‘outside the EU’. In fact 22 of the current 28 EU states were ‘outside’ before 1973, and the number of EU states has grown beyond 15 only since 2004.

The UK is a founding member of CERN, which is a separate international treaty organisation whose formation pre-dates the start of the EEC/EU by three years. So the UK’s membership of, and collaboration with, CERN should be unaffected by Brexit. Interestingly, a number of EU states are not currently members of CERN, and several non-EU states are full CERN members. Long may CERN serve as the flagship of European (and increasingly, global) collaboration in particle physics, and long may the UK be a CERN member! And of course the UK also collaborates on particle physics with many countries outside Europe, notably the USA and Japan.

UK researchers have benefitted considerably from grants won competitively from the EU via the Framework and Horizon2020 R&D funding schemes as well as from the European Research Council. Estimates are that a nett £300M is currently received per annum by the UK research community. Particle physics has been successful in this regard – my own research has benefitted from participation in the EU projects ELAN, EuroTeV, HiGRADE, EUCARD, TIARA, AIDA2020 and EJADE for support of R&D relevant to ILC and CLIC. We hope that other projects in the pipeline (RANDALF, ARIES) will be successful and benefit the LC and wider particle physics community. It remains an open question whether, if Brexit goes ahead, the UK will be able to benefit from future EU research funding. Of course Brexit supporters argue that the UK Government could better use the money that it sends to the EU (currently a nett £8.5B annually) for direct investment at home. That is certainly a logical possibility, but governments are often tempted simply not to spend the money; and there are anyway many other proposals (eg. healthcare) for how to use any ‘savings’. However, non-EU states Norway and Switzerland have negotiated (and pay for) access to the EU research area, so if one is optimistic there would be a sensible path forward for the UK also.

So while there is no doubt that the UK research community is unlikely to be any better off with Brexit, there is still a vigorous, internationally collaborative UK particle physics programme that can continue, with good will and common sense, to make major contributions to our field. And that includes contributions to Linear Colliders.

Philip Burrows

Philip Burrows is CLIC Accelerator Collaboration spokesman and acting Associate Director for the Compact Linear Collider Study in the Linear Collider Collaboration.
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