He thinks ongoing scientific research at all levels is vital. Which brings us, almost neatly, and inevitably, to Brexit — the elephant in every room, pub and Uber journey in the capital. Last weekend thousands of people marched from Trafalgar Square to Parliament to protest against the planned departure from the EU. I ask what effect Brexit will have on the amount of money available for research. “I promised myself I wouldn’t really talk about it,” he demurs. There’s a pause, before he quietly but convincingly does so.
“What you can say as a fact is that we receive more than a billion currency units a year. Pounds, euros, whatever it is, it’s about a billion,” he begins. “So the first question is what happens to that. It’s obviously a big hit to the university research base. That’s extremely problematic.” A member of the Royal Society’s staff points out that “10 per cent of university research funding comes from the EU”. Cox nods.
“Even more urgent is the position of EU nationals in our system,” he says. “Not only in lectureships and professorships but post-docs and students. All these things need addressing. But it’s not just science. There’s an enormous list.”
I suggest that British science might become isolated: unable to attract talent, its own talent unable to travel easily to foreign research posts. “Absolutely,” he nods. “When you look at my fields, particle physics and astronomy, it’s all about European and global collaboration. The European Space Agency, the European Southern Observatory, CERN. The “e” in CERN stands for Europe — our whole science infrastructure is European. The facilities we have are part of a much wider structure: one single country generally cannot afford to build large facilities on its own. It’s all about collaboration.”
And collaboration is quite a good thing, after all. It’s something to strive for. It’s a big improvement on war and fighting.