Fears have emerged that UK minerals
companies could be left behind in terms of R&D funding if
Britain leaves the EU, following the in-out referendum to be
held over the country’s membership of the union on
23 June this year.
|If the UK leaves the EU, the
country may not be entitled to access funding and data
earmarked for European mineral projects, experts have
warned (source: D Smith, via Flickr).
Industrial minerals experts and
industry chiefs have been examining the consequences of a
"Brexit", focusing particularly on the potential impact UK
isolation would have upon financing research into new
exploration and extraction technologies and mineral
Only last week, details emerged of a
€5.4m ($5.9m*) project led by a team from the Exeter
University, aimed at discovering deposits of so-called
critical minerals all over Europe.
The money, from the
EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, will fund the
development of state-of-the-art techniques to uncover
previously-unknown resources of minerals including rare earths, niobium, fluorspar and graphite, deemed essential to the
manufacture of many high-tech products.
According to the European
Commission, less than 3% of minerals designated as critical to
the EU economy, are mined within the union at present, however
there are believed to be vast, undiscovered deposits of these
resources lying undiscovered within EU borders.
Wall, of the Camborne School of Mines, which is part of Exeter
University, who is leading the project declined to comment
specifically on the impact of a Brexit on the UK mineral
industry’s relationship with the rest of Europe,
but acknowledged that "the EU is a major funder of R&D
activity in this sector."
It is unclear what would happen to
Britain’s input into the project – or EU
funding of Professor Wall’s work – should
the UK vote to leave on 23 June.
"One problem, of course, is that
nobody really knows what might happen if we vote to leave. The
common market has been on the go for so long," Robert Durward,
director of the British Aggregates Association, told
Academic opinion is divided on
whether Britain would be able to benefit from funding
– and whether the EU would be able to continue to
benefit from British expertise, such as that offered by
Professor Wall and her team at Camborne – in the event
of a Brexit.
Lesley Wilson, secretary-general of
the European University Association, in Brussels, said that
"Europe would suffer and the UK would suffer".
A spokesperson for the UK pro-Brexit
campaign, Leave.eu, suggested that cash which the UK would no
longer have to pay to Europe, if it left, could be diverted to
British research. However, studies funded by Britain alone may
have restricted access to co-operation, data and actual land of
EU countries to conduct mineral research and mining activity,
if it was no longer part of the union.
The UK has a long history of
co-operation and involvement with significant EU-funded
projects, which have discovered and developed mineral deposits
– especially in Africa.
Switzerland, which is not an EU
member, previously paid to be part of EU minerals research
projects, but access was later withdrawn after the Alpine
country passed laws in 2014 that restricted immigration from
the rest of the union.
Another aspect of a Brexit would be
the question of what regulations the UK government would apply
to the industry to replace the current EU panoply of standards
"One thing that is for sure is that,
even if we do leave, it will probably take five years to unwind
all the common legislation that has built up over the
years," said Durward.
Remaining inside the EU, would,
according to some, strengthen calls for a reduction in red tape
when applying for research grants, for example. A commitment to
cutting bureaucracy was a key part of the commitment won by UK
Prime Minister, David Cameron, in negotiating a revised deal
for UK membership of the EU, the substance of which Britons
will effectively voting on in June.
made February 2016