"The UK's decision to leave the EU has presented the science and innovation sector with its greatest challenge in generations. If we are to confront this challenge effectively so that we protect and enhance science in the UK, it is crucial that the science community's voice is heard now.

We stand at a vital crossroads in the Brexit negotiations. By holding this summit before the next stage of negotiations commence, we can ensure that our priorities are clear and our demands are delivered right to the heart of Government." Norman Lamb MP (Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

This quote from Norman Lamb MP (Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee), in the launch documentation for the Brexit Science and Innovation Summit, effectively captures the current fears and hopes of AIRTO, the Association of Innovation, Research, and Technology Organisations, its members, and the 47,000 people whom they employ.


This document has been prepared in response to the call for written evidence to support the Committee’s Summit, which will held 22 February 2018.


It builds on previous submissions made by AIRTO to the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee (Commons) in July 2016, the House of Lords Select Committee in September 2016, and the Migration Advisory Committee Consultation in October 2017.


AIRTO has prepared this response on behalf of its members, who operate in the innovation sector in the United Kingdom (UK) and overseas, with extensive links to industry and academia. AIRTO members number more than 60 organisations, employing over 47,000 scientific and technical staff. These organisations work across a wide range of industrial sectors, and are based across the UK with some clustering in London and the South East. They playing a key role in supporting the uptake of innovation by industry.


A brief description of AIRTO, together with contact details, is given at the end of this document.


AIRTO members and the EU


The majority of AIRTO members are strongly linked with the European Union (EU) in the following ways:


These four areas of activity ensure that AIRTO members keep and build on their world class technical status and add to the UK’s reputation as the best place for research and innovation.


View of current government position and actions


AIRTO members welcomed the government’s Future Partnership Paper “Collaboration on Science and Innovation” and the up-date on the status of the negotiations contained in the “Orderly UK Withdrawal” document. Both of these clearly set out the current position and, in the case of the Future Partnership Paper, the aspirations of the government for continuing collaboration with the EU on science and innovation. These aspirations coincide with those of AIRTO members. However, they are high level aspirations without the degree of detail that gives certainty to where the future lies.


Current effect of Brexit on AIRTO members


The current effects of Brexit on AIRTO members arise mainly as a result of the uncertainty in the science and innovation landscape, although there are already instances of the EU terminating or not renewing contracts with our members for work to develop European standards, testing protocols etc., in anticipation of UK withdrawal in March 2019.


These effects of uncertainty are as follows:


AIRTO members are starting to develop contingency plans in the face of a great deal of uncertainty. A part of these plans, for some organisations, involves assessing whether they can continue to rely on their operations being based solely in the UK. To mitigate the prevailing uncertainty, developing or transferring operations into states that are in the EU may be a necessary strategy, but one that could disadvantage the UK in the medium and long term.


Planned government strategies



Immediate actions needed


AIRTO members, and the wider UK science and innovation infrastructure are currently facing challenges presented by the lack of detail about the future relationship with the EU.


Whereas it is accepted that the final details will not be known until the Brexit negotiations are completed, a number of more immediate actions are needed from the government:



AIRTO is the Association of Innovation, Research and Technology Organisations. Its membership comprises approximately sixty of the principal organisations operating in the UK’s Innovation, Research and Technology (IRT) sector. The IRT sector has a combined turnover of £6.9Bn, employing over 57,000 scientific and technical staff (equivalent to the academic staffing of the Russell Group of universities) and, for comparison, it is significantly larger than the network of Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany both in size and its scope of activities. The sector contributes £34Bn to UK GDP. AIRTO’s members work at the interface between academia and industry, for both private and public sector clients.


Members include independent Research and Technology Organisations, Catapult Centres, Public Sector Research Establishments, National Laboratories, some university Technology Transfer Offices and some privately held innovation companies.


Declaration of Interests

AIRTO Ltd is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No 1217006. Registered office address: National Physical Laboratory, Hampton Road, Teddington, Middlesex, TW11 0LW. AIRTO is a not-for-profit organisation funded by membership subscriptions, and managed under contract by NPL Management Ltd. Please note that this submission does not necessarily represent the views of individual member organisations. The members of AIRTO currently are:


Advanced Forming Research Centre

AMRC with Boeing


Axillium Research


BHR Group

BMT Group

BRE Group


C-Tech Innovation Ltd

Campden BRI


City University London


DG Cities Ltd

Digital Catapult

FloWave TT Ltd

Fraunhofer UK Research Ltd

Future Cities Catapult

Health & Safety Laboratory
High Value Manufacturing Catapult


HR Wallingford Group Ltd

Institute for Environmental Analytics


Lucideon Ltd

Materials Processing Institute

Met Office




National Innovation Centre for Ageing

National Nuclear Laboratory

National Physical Laboratory

Northern Automotive Alliance


Nuclear AMRC


Organic Research Centre

PA Consulting

Patent Seekers


Rothamsted Ltd

Satellite Applications Catapult

SATRA Technology Centre


Smith Institute

Stockbridge Technology Centre

Thatcham Research

The European Marine Energy Centre

The Scotch Whisky Research Institute

Transport Systems Catapult




University of Greenwich

University of Surrey



February 2018