In this article I’m conducting a stock take on the scientific, technological and environmental impacts of Brexit. You can watch my film on this at Brexit through the microscope. Brexit is far from done, as Johnson, Sunak, Truss and Starmer would have you believe. Recent data show that 62% of people in Britain now believe that Brexit was a mistake. This equates to one fifth of the entire UK population.
Brexit is no longer the will of the people, especially young people. 86% of young people now wish to rejoin the EU. There was a deliberate intent to ensure that we had a ‘boiled frog’ Brexit, so that people would not notice our sleepwalk into Brexit oblivion. Our simmering frog is probably only at 50 degrees Celsius, as there’s plenty more Brexit carnage to come. The news from the car manufacturing industry shows that Boris’s bungled oven burned Brexit is now revealing its many ugly heads.
The information age and Brexit
We are in the 4th industrial age, where people mine data rather than coal, and use technology rather than spades as their main tools. There is much controversy about the role of technology in our lives but one thing is for sure – Darwin always wins. We would do better to make sure that we profit from the harmonious union of man, woman and machine, and this calls on good governance and good government. Our politicians are left wanting in this respect
The recent controversy about AI and machine learning is being seen as a threat by Elon Musk. Of course, he is right, if we don’t respond to it. In my 2018 book Brain Based Enterprises, I reported that up to 1/3 of jobs may be lost to technology in this decade. Any Government that lags behind is set to become a net loser in the age of machine learning. I put forward a range of scenarios in the book and Government would do well to legislate for a harmonious union of man, woman and machine in the age of intelligence.
There has never been a more important time for Government to make good laws, but our Brexit Junta is not match fit for this task. Instead, they are deregulating our labour laws to the point that some people will feel like they have returned to unmodern slavery and the Highland Clearances.
As an example of this enslavement to efficiency over effectiveness, now that farmers have no access to temporary workers from Europe to pick fruit and veg, this makes automation a necessity where it is practical and economical. Automation will be a one-way trip. Furthermore, to make farming more economically attractive, our Government is relaxing environmental laws governing agrochemicals that will ultimately endanger our food quality, literally costing the earth.
Brexit forces the GM genie out of the bottle, alongside many other hazards to whole food and healthy living. Laws have already been passed allowing gene editing as one step down the slippery slope towards US style food standards. The Farm Minister Mark Spencer recently reneged on the Horticulture Strategy to protect our farmers and our food.
Science and Brexit
One of the Conservatives’ stated benefits of Brexit is that it will allow Britain to become a science superpower. But science is a team sport. 55% of UK academic publications resulted from international collaboration in 2018. By infecting scientific collaboration with politics, we are ultimately poorer in terms of innovation and technological breakthroughs. UK Government may have extended the deadline for Horizon applications but basically science is a discipline that knows no boundaries.
The EU’s Horizon programme will provide €13.5 billion in 2023 – 2024 for European research and innovation, supporting breakthrough solutions for environmental, energy, digital and geopolitical challenges we all face. Brexit Britain will return to a Bunsen burner and a Lott’s Chemistry set.
With upfront costs of work and study visas for researchers and innovators considering coming to the UK up to six times higher than the average across leading science nations, it is no wonder that the brain drain from Brexit Britain will continue and, with it, leading science, pharma and tech companies. Rishi Sunak can lie all he wants about superpowers and a silicon valley in Brexit Britain but the unvarnished analytical truth will out. But hey, I guess that the Brexiteers can do a weekend course to become surgeons, biomedical scientists, space engineers and software designers …
And it’s not just science and tech. One of the lesser-known outcomes of Brexit was that Britain and the EU did not reach agreement on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications due to Johnson’s desire to ‘get Brexit done’, which meant that the Brexit deal went unscrutinised. This means accountants, lawyers and other knowledge workers may find their qualifications unrecognised or face additional red tape and costs when trying to work in Europe. Boris Johnson threw these people under a bus as well as businesses, scientists, technocrats and 68 million people.
Brexit and the environment
In the 1970’s Britain was regarded as the sick and dirty man of Europe. Our EU membership led to clean beaches and other environmental benefits, many of which nobody was aware of, but which are beginning to reveal their ugly heads now. To misquote Lou Reed, who sums so many things up in a pithy way:
Brexiters don’t care too much for beauty
They’ll sh..t in a river, dump battery acid in a stream
They’ll watch dead rats wash up on the beach
And complain if they can’t swim
The last great American whale – Lou Reed
Whereas Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have decided to maintain dynamic alignment with EU environmental standards, Westmonster seems hell bent on divergence from such standards. Jacob Rees-Mogg was caught in a moment of ‘orgasmic Brexstacy’ in the GB News portacabin, at the thought of trashing 4000 EU laws which our politicians initiated or helped to craft. Aside from the environmental impacts of such decisions, it will of course impact trade as goods made in UK will not be acceptable for sale in other markets. Faced with the choice to manufacture goods to two specifications, there are signs that some manufacturers will judge that the costs and complexities of serving two markets means that they will have to choose shrinkage over growth. So much for Liz Truss’ growth strategy then.
Brexit exacerbates our sleepwalk into climate catastrophe. Here are three reasons why:
- A bonfire on environmental standards just so we can say that we make our own laws will have dramatic impact on climate change. We have already seen that Britain is about to bring back coal mining in a desperate attempt to look self-sufficient. It’s not a badge of honour. Burning fossil fuels to make electricity is the biggest source of carbon emissions in Britain.
- Lower standards allows for moral hazard, in other words, using low quality, cheaper ingredients for manufacturing, some of which will be less environmentally safe. A hairdresser in Chatham told me that Brexit would give her the freedom to use hair products that contain carcinogens. It’s not something to brag about.
- More world trade means more carbon footprint. We ought to be getting used to sourcing things as locally as possible. Instead Brexit reverses this approach.
The music video ‘How do we want to be remembered’ that I made for COP 26 reminds us of our relationship with planet earth and just how much we take that relationship for granted. I believe that the planet is now quite angry with us.
I could go on about data adequacy divergence coming over the hill, telecoms, mobile roaming, net neutrality and cyber security post Brexit, but I feel that I should sum up at this point:
Boris Johnson promised that the Brexit ‘sunlit uplands’ would make Britain a country where innovation, competition and growth would all thrive thanks to reduced red tape and costs. These have not materialised. All the indicators suggest that this will be the case going forward. Scotland could do better than be held back by a bungled Brexit.
In the 4th industrial age, we need to support STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in order to innovate, reach sustainability goals and profit from the age of AI responsibly. All the indicators suggest that instead of this, we will plunder science and technology as Brexit cash cows, until we drive innovation out of Britain’s DNA. Scotland would do well to learn from our mistake.
Financial support for science looks set to dwindle in the post-Brexit world. Since science is a team sport, we can expect our reputation to decline in the coming decades. The Scottish university and science sector needs to thrive rather than be tethered by ‘Brexit science’.
All of this has an impact on climate change. We entered the EU as the sick man of Europe and we are leaving as the dirty man of Europe. All so that we can pray at the altar of the false God of Brexit. Scotland has a lot more to lose than England in respect of its natural resources, forestry and farming in this respect.