"Boris Johnson" by U.S. Department of State / Public Domain

What Boris Johnson’s leadership could mean for science

Jul 23, 2019

By Holly Else

Boris Johnson has been selected as the United Kingdom’s new prime minister — and is poised to lead the country out of the European Union. At the forefront of many scientists’ minds are questions about how Johnson’s leadership, including his support for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, will affect research. They fear that British science has much to lose from a messy departure from the EU.

Johnson is a controversial politician, who has served as the Conservative government’s foreign secretary and as mayor of London. He has said little directly about research during his leadership campaign. But crucially, and worryingly, for many scientists and politicians, Johnson has said that he is prepared to walk away from the EU without any future trade and immigration agreements in place.

A no-deal Brexit could happen if an agreement cannot be reached with the EU by 31 October, the date by which the United Kingdom must leave the bloc. Scientists have long said that an abrupt exit would be disastrous for UK research — instantly cutting off some funding from big-money EU science programmes, threatening collaborations and disrupting travel, hiring and collaborations.

Nature looks at what Johnson’s premiership could mean for science.

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2 comments on “What Boris Johnson’s leadership could mean for science

  • Johnson’s parliamentary voting record reveals that he has generally been unsupportive of policies designed to mitigate climate change.

    Johnson is not an ideological politician, so any of his major policy changes will be about political positioning rather than strong beliefs…

    Johnson has a reputation for not doing his homework. Bluffing in international negotiations about climate change or biodiversity, for example, could be problematic.

    “Boris is more unpredictable than other politicians,” says Flanagan. 

    “He changes his mind repeatedly, so it is extremely difficult to have a good idea on what he might do about anything.”

    I am so sorry, guys. It looks like you have your own Trump now, right down to the cronyism.


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  • We really do, Vicki.

    It’s been coming for months, and we all knew it was coming, so there isn’t quite the same sense of sheer shock there was in the US when Trump was elected, but for all that, many many of us had been hoping upon hope that *something* would happen to prevent it, and the realisation that this is where we are now at is hugely painful and distressing.

    While out volunteering for the Remain campaign back in 2016 I repeatedly found myself warning people that a Leave victory would just be the start: that it would usher in a right-wing coup that would leave the country immeasurably poorer in every way: economically, of course, but also morally and reputationally.

    And that right-wing coup is precisely what is happening as I write. Johnson is clearing anyone with insufficient faith in unicorns out of his Cabinet – anyone remotely moderate or level-headed on the subject of Brexit (or, as the BBC’s Assistant Political Editor has tweeted: “Re-shuffle is shaping up to be a clear out of the non believers; those not signed up to Project Boris”).

    He has appointed ultra-Brexiteer and former Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings as, in effect, his CEO. Ultra right-wingers and passionate Brexiters Dominic Raab and Priti Patel have apparently been promised senior Cabinet positions – seriously, those two would be right at home in the US Tea Party. Priti Patel – who has openly advocated reinstating the death penalty – is widely expected to be made Home Secretary (in which case she’ll have the power to attempt to do so). As I’ve been typing this, Dominic Raab – who during his time as Brexit Secretary declared his astonishment at discovering how dependent we are on the port of Dover for our imports, thereby revealing a distinct lack of geographical or geopolitical awareness – has been made Foreign Secretary. We can be glad he wasn’t made Health Secretary, at least – he’d have had the NHS sold off in time for the weekend. 

    And in the meantime, Johnson – who has repeatedly claimed he’s the only one who can unite the country – has started out as he undoubtedly means to go on by labelling those of us who don’t believe in Brexit and fear a No-Deal Brexit especially as “betting against Britain” – so here we go with the “Remainers aren’t patriots” rhetoric. Again. Are we feeling united yet?

    It is an absolute horror show. Of the kind we allegedly non-patriotic Brits used to think Britain was too sane, too pragmatic, too decent to ever allow to happen. It is actually – literally – more than I can take in, more than I can process. I have never felt such depths of disgust with my country, or such fear for its future.


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