Jump the Channel, UK Life Science Companies

Imagine that you are a director of a company. One day you hear one of your employees stating loud and clear, with much feeling: „I have decided to quit!“

But the next day, in Human Resources, when the person is handed his or her papers, eyes and mouth assume the „Big O“ shape: „But I have not resigned! All I had said is that I have decided to quit! A person can make a decision and tell everybody, yes? That’s not an action. I alone will decide when I hand in my resignation. Until then I remain your employee with all my statutory rights. If you fire me now we shall meet in court, because it would be without cause.“

This is exactly how the not-so-United Kingdom currently behaves towards the European Union. And just as the EU leaders were frozen in anxiety as the day of the Brexit referendum approached, they are now helplessly caught in the crevices of their own inadequate legal constructs. The Lisbon Treaty did not anticipate that a EU member state who decides to leave the Union would refuse to take formal action, knowing that it cannot be ejected. Discarding responsibilities of membership while retaining all rights of participation (and of course, voting rights in the EU Commission and parliament) seems to be an attractive option.

Dear young friends in England, you are taking to the streets in your vocal protest against the Brexit vote. But most of you did not show up on referendum day while your elders, who think quite differently, stampeded the polling stations. That’s general referendum democracy for you, so quit whining. If you do not want to live in a country that rejects European core values you can vote again, with your feet; come and invigorate the Continent, where people greet you even as we speak.

Dear life science companies, along with other parts of the UK‘s innovation-driven economy you have repeatedly warned against a Brexit decision; alas, to no avail. Surely you are aware that your goods, services, scientists, and executives will soon get third-party treatment on the Continent; that your continued participation in the EU Horizon 2020 R&D program (and its successors) as an equal-rights member is ending; that the European Medicines Agency will be moved to the Continent for good. UK universities, from where you draw your scientists and managers, received £836 million in research grants and contracts from EU sources in 2014-15: gone. Many other things too. We cordially invite you to jump the Channel, or maybe even the North Sea. Germany, the Baltics, and Scandinavia are great places for great life science companies.

Of course, you might want to go the other way and join the United States life science community – after all, it still is the world’s greatest, and your governments have had a “Special Relationship” for the past century. With a little patience, and disregarding the Scots who might disagree (in case they have not seceded already), you could perhaps even stay where you are: CNN has already carried a proposal to make the UK the 51st U.S. State.

Yes, you could stay where you are. – Or would you?