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AISUK statement on Brexit and Italian scientists

The community of Italian scientists in the United Kingdom amounts to almost 5,000 people, engaged in research across all disciplines in the physical, engineering, biomedical, social, and human sciences. We are the largest community of non-British researchers after the Germans. We work in many universities, including all the best departments and research centres in the country. Together with researchers from all over the world, we contribute with great passion and dedication to the scientific development of this country and of mankind as a whole, as science belongs to all people. We have come to London, Cambridge, Oxford or Edinburgh, with the same spirit as if moving from Rome to Milan, or Bonn to Berlin: within a common market there is freedom of movement for workers, and no one of us felt like an immigrant. Rather, we have so far felt honoured to live in country of great liberal tradition and to work in excellent universities and research centres.

In recent months however, we have had to witness the political evolution of the UK with increasing disconcert and apprehension. The outcome of the referendum is already creating problems, and will certainly lead to serious economic and social damages. The fall of the pound and the rise in xenophobic crimes are just the first signals. The latest declarations from Prime Minister May and other Government members are certainly no more reassuring. In recent weeks we have had to hear, among other things, declarations of: commitment to restrict access to foreign students, intent to replace foreign doctors with British doctors, intent to limit labour mobility at the cost of exiting the common market, refusal to employ non-British experts. Moreover, messages about the future of EU citizens in the UK are mixed, as these are seen as bargaining chips in the negotiations with the EU.

The political decisions of the last months might have a great impact on our recent work, for several reasons. First, exiting the EU risks creating a serious slowdown of the economy in years to come: less growth means less resources for everyone, including our centres, laboratories and hospitals. Second, the scientific world thrives of constant exchanges of ideas among researchers. Scientists move across centres depending on their research needs. It is not a coincidence that this year six Nobel laureates in chemistry, economics and physics (three of which are UK born) all live and work outside their country of origin. Any limitation to freedom of movement is a serious obstacle to scientific progress. Third, the EU has represented an extraordinary source of funding for our studies, such as for example the European Research Councils grants. It is now completely uncertain whether the UK government has the resources and the intent to guarantee such economic support in the years to come. Fourth, as well as valid colleagues we also need valid students. Students represent a large source of income for the universities we work in, and it is important that the quality of such students remains high. Fifth, the anti-immigration rhetoric discourages people from coming to the UK, making it even more arduous to recruit the best minds at a global level. Without a complete change in the political stance, the UK will cease to be an attractive destination for any scientists, of any nationality (including British).

We are concerned about our work and, above all, we don’t like having freely moved within a common market to be now treated as immigrants. Science knows no borders, and we thoroughly condemn the xenophobic rhetoric we have witnessed in recent months. Italian scientists are inspired by the ideals of the open society: a society not only tolerant of people’s diversity but actually valuing it. A society that accepts not only the Italian oncologist or astrophysicist of global fame, but also values the contribution of every single human being. Without a complete change of political stance, the UK will cease to be an appealing place for us not only as a scientist, but first and foremost as people: many scientists will avoid coming to this country, and many of those already here will consider more appealing places to live and work in. This is true for Italian scientists as much as for any other nationality. The consequences for the whole academic and research community in the UK will be serious.