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Job offers turned down since Brexit vote, says EMBL director

Image: Sarah2, via Shutterstock

The European Bioinformatics Institute has struggled to recruit since the UK voted to leave the EU, the head of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory has revealed.

Four job offers have been declined, and interest from the wider EU has nearly dried up, Iain Mattaj told the EuroScience Open Forum in Manchester on 26 July. "In the few weeks since the vote we’ve had almost no applications for positions from non-UK EU citizens," he said.

The biggest deterrent to working in the UK—and the biggest source of concern among the 200 EBI employees from EU countries other than the UK—is uncertainty about the status of family members, said Mattaj.

The institute, which specialises in the computational analysis of DNA and other biological molecules, is located outside Cambridge. It has about 500 employees, and is one of five EMBL centres.

Mattaj also raised the question of UK participation in the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures, which conducts long-term planning on research facilities. Among the projects facing uncertainty are Instruct, a structural biology collaboration which has its headquarters in Oxford.

"Frankly, it’s absolutely not clear what will happen," said Mattaj. "There are lots of uncertainties that government would do well to address as quickly as possible."

Speaking on the impacts of Brexit during the same session, Rob Ivison, director of science at the European Southern Observatory, pointed to exchange rate fluctuations. Hedging had allowed the ESO, based in Chile, to minimise the effects of the euro’s decline against the Chilean peso, he said.

Ivison, who holds a position at the University of Edinburgh, said he feared that the referendum reflected wider trends. "Even before the vote I had trouble getting clearance to bring people [from outside the EU] I desperately needed to work with me," he said.