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Scientists among thousands marching to demand say on Brexit

Hundreds of thousands of people protested in London to push for a say on the terms of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.

Some researchers wore lab coats and safety goggles and held placards as they marched. Others told Nature that they were protesting to demand Brexit be reversed and that the looming split was already negatively affecting recruitment, EU researchers’ willingness to enter into collaborations, and supply chains for laboratory materials.

“For scientists, any form of Brexit is bad,” says Stuart Conway, a chemical biologist at the University of Oxford who attended the march and wants people to have the chance to vote again on Brexit, with the option of remaining in the EU.

The scientists’ rally was organized by the campaign group Scientists for EU and formed part of the wider protest coordinated by campaign organizations including Open Britain, a pro-Europe group that opposes aspects of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Organizers expected 300,000 people from around the United Kingdom to take part in the march, which started near London’s Hyde Park and ended with speeches in Parliament Square. Early reports of crowd sizes suggest up to 1 million people may have attended.

Angella Bryan, a clinical scientist affiliated with the University of Manchester got up at 6 a.m. to travel to London. “This is our future and we are wasting money by not being in the EU. So we need to be here and forget about Brexit,” she says.

Stephen McLaughlin, a biophysicist at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, says that he was marching to support UK science and had just returned from a biophysics meeting in Zagreb that brought together European researchers. “We share ideas, best practice, and we can get funding for short-term visits,” he says.

“It is really important that we use our neighbours to increase and enhance our science in the UK,” he adds. “Everybody is quite nervous about what is going to happen.”

More than four million people have now signed a petition on Parliament’s website demanding that Brexit be stopped.

Signatories include Venki Ramakrishnan, a Nobel-prizewinning structural biologist and the president of the Royal Society in London, who told Nature he had added his name in a personal capacity.

“Speaking purely personally, I can think of no benefit of Brexit for UK science. The damage to Britain’s reputation as an open society and a welcoming magnet for global talent needs to be reversed,” says Ramakrishnan, who was not at the protest. It is time for politicians to “consider either reversing or ameliorating this national act of self harm”, he says.