A historic defeat for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has raised the odds that the United Kingdom will crash out of the European Union in March, a prospect that scientists dread for its potential for disruption to research collaborations and the economy. On 15 January, Parliament roundly rejected May’s deal with the European Union, which lays out the terms for an orderly withdrawal. What happens next is unknown.
“Yesterday’s unprecedented vote makes the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal even more likely,” said Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society in London, in a statement. “A no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for British science and innovation and I urge our elected representatives to put the interests of the country first and get a new plan to prevent this catastrophic outcome.”
After a 2016 referendum, in which a majority of 51.9% voted to leave Europe, May invoked Article 50 of the European Union’s Treaty of Lisbon. This action set 29 March as the date of departure. In November 2018, May’s negotiators reached an agreement with the European Union over the terms of the departure, spelling out the United Kingdom’s remaining financial obligations to the European Union and specifying a 2-year period to smooth the transition.