Brexit: The Way Forward for Cambridge’s Enterprises and Technologies

A timely and gripping set of Brexit perspectives and pointers forward from four high level speakers from our region, followed by active questioning by the audience at the CETC event in July 2016

Michael-BarnesDr Christopher BickertonDr Cahir OKaneVicky-Ford

Michael Barnes kicked off the evening with a view from the Local Enterprise Partnership, where he is Head of Programs. His ebullient presentation could not hide the fact that he was indeed concerned about the impact Brexit had already had. Our region has benefited from a range of EU funding and support, such as the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), Horizon 2020 for R&D, the Rural Development Program to name some of them. With the Brexit referendum, applications for available existing funding have been put on hold. This is presumably because of Westminster's concerns about committing to payments that could run post our exit from the EU. His question was really directed to Westminster - Where is Plan B?

Vicky Ford MEP was making notes

Dr Christopher Bickerton, University of Cambridge, POLIS, wryly observed that his usual reception at events such as this were anti-Brexit ambushes. However, with the reassuring presence of CETC's President and resident Bulldog Hugh Parnell to keep order, Chris soon got into his stride. His view was that this vote was  transformational and good news for democracy, because of the growing disconnect between the British voter and the Westminster bubble.

Furthermore, whilst there would be an initial downturn, the UK had a very adaptable economy. Some of our current issues such as low productivity were in part due to the ease with which employers did not have to commit to training in-house staff when there was a large labour pool of trained people that could be called in from abroad. There could be a shift in attitudes.

Perhaps his most chilling/reassuring point (depending on your perspective, was that the change about to hit Britain was the tip on an iceberg, with us quite ably suited to tackle the future; the 90% of the iceberg below the water represented the rest of Europe, which might find the impending changes more difficult to cope with.

As a Remainer, I did take the time to read his book before the event - his arguments are cogently expanded in his most recent book, The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide (2016).

Vicky Ford MEP was avidly taking notes

Dr Cahir O'Kane is usually a quiet, reticent Head of the O'Kane Group in the Genetics Department, Cambridge University. His personal perspective was the potential immediate impact of Brexit on his research group. Of his 6 staff, 2 have European fellowships and the real worry is that these cannot be replaced after Brexit. Similarly, shorter visits to explore new avenues and build a community, e.g. Erasmus work experience students, could be impeded.

Currently European Science thrives on being open to people's voices and allowing free movement, with the minimum of administration. It has also led to international recognition of the European Research Council's Benchmark for Quality. So much so, that having been part of an ERC project in the past is vital to receiving grant funding for new projects. Removing Britain from the EU would immediately impact on participation in international projects. There were already signs that UK researchers were being asked to take less significant roles in existing projects.

The threat to Britain's international standing in science is - bureaucracy.  Within the world leader Cambridge University, 31% of researchers are EU nationals, 21% are non-EU. However, the non-EU researchers pose a vastly greater administrative burden for any project leader, with reams of paperwork to organise their acceptance, travel to and stay in the UK. If we exit the EU, will researchers from other European countries then be subject to the same level of bureaucracy?

Exclusion from the Single Market was also a concern - even with a free trade agreement, reintroduction of Customs clearance for goods shipped to and from the EU would re-introduce delays, and new costs in both money and staff time, on a daily basis.

Vicky Ford MEP thoughtfully finished off her notes and took to the stage as the fourth and last speaker.

Vicky had been speaking at the European Parliament earlier in the week and had also met Prime Minister May with other MEPs at Downing St. Despite having experience of the EU warts and all, she had voted remain. However, now was the time to look to the future and create a new path. On the one hand, she recognised that the UK underestimated the EU need for free movement, particularly from the former communist states. They still remembered the absolute travel restrictions they had been under and now saw the ability to visit other countries as a freedom to protect. On the other hand, she raised the point that within the EU, different countries had different needs in their relationship with the UK, whether it was working together in Defence (France) or seeking active and competitive markets (Germany).

It was perhaps not just her words but her actions that spoke for Vicky. She arrived for registration and chatted with delegates before the talks. In her speech, she not only recognised the concerns, problems, solutions and issues raised  by the previous speakers, she took a deep interest in the topics and comments raised by the audience in the Q&A afterwards and stayed for the buffet. Her promises to note and raise issues in future discussions at Westminster came across as sincere and was commented on well after she had left.

This contrasts dramatically with the perception of many re their local MPs ability to listen and act on their behalf.

This set of talks gave the audience much food for thought, an awareness of some of the difficulties ahead for science, enterprise and technology in our region, and perhaps a soupçon of hope that there might be some light at the end of the Brexit tunnel. 



Michael Barnes
Head of EU Programmes, Local Enterprise Partnership

Michael has significant experience of EU structural funds, having managed ERDF and ESF programmes during his time as a Senior Manager at the Government Office for the East of England.


Prior to joining the LEP in 2013, Michael had a 26-year career in central government, promoting UK business in Central and Eastern Europe and working on policies to promote sustainable development and tackle climate change. He also managed various aspects of the Common Fisheries Policy and was seconded to the Latvian government in Riga to assist with the country’s EU accession preparations.

Dr Christopher BickertonDr Christopher Bickerton

University Teaching Officer
Queens’ College

Christopher Bickerton is University Lecturer in politics at POLIS and an Official Fellow at Queens’ College, Cambridge. He obtained his PhD from the University of Oxford in 2008 and since then has held teaching positions in Oxford, Amsterdam and Paris. He has published widely in academic journals and many international broadsheets. He is co-editor of the political economy blog, The Current Moment. His most recent book is The European Union: A Citizen's Guide (2016)

Research Interests

His research interests span the disciplines of international relations, comparative European politics and European studies. He is currently working on the topic of state transformation in post-1945 Europe, from a comparative historical perspective. He is also working on two collaborative projects. One investigates, theoretically and empirically, the relationship between populism and technocracy in contemporary political life. A second is on the nature of post-Maastricht European integration and its implications for our understanding of states, institutions and interests in the process of European integration

Dr Cahir OKaneDr Cahir O’Kane

Group leader of the O’Kane Group
Department of Genetics
University of Cambridge

Research interests

The O’Kane Group is  interested in signalling processes that regulate neuronal function – both their basic biology, and their relevance to neurodegenerative disease. Of particular interest are the membrane traffic events relevant to these processes, using Drosophila as a model.

Examples of clinical conditions may include Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis; Dementia; Genetic disorders; Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia; Huntington’s disease; Multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; Spinocerebellar ataxia.

Dr O’Kane’s group is international in its staff and student researchers. He is an ardent supporter of  inclusive EU programs such as ERASMUS, which allows students to gain experience in another EU country. EU funding is critical in collaborative research and Dr O’Kane has been vociferous with other scientists in raising the importance of this issue for the future of UK science.

Vicki Ford MEP for the East of England


Vicky Ford is Chairman of the European Parliament Internal Market and Consumer Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful economic committees of the Parliament. She was elected a Member of the European Parliament in 2009 and is the leading Conservative MEP for the East of England. She is a member of the Bureau of the European Conservative and Reformist Group and a member of the Parliament’s delegation for relations with China.

 Report by event organisor Dr Chris Thomas, CETC