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Draft Brexit on the Table

Though many details have yet to be worked out, a draft Brexit deal for the UK's withdrawal from the EU is starting to show researchers what they might be able to expect once the breakup is complete, Nature News reports.

The draft agreement says that EU citizens currently living in the UK — including researchers — and their families can claim permanent residence in the UK. Many EU nationals had expressed fears that they'd have to leave their jobs in the UK once Brexit was complete, but this provision may calm those concerns, Nature News says. 

The draft document does not cover in detail what the UK and EU will do in the future in terms of immigration policy and it doesn't address the UK's membership in European research-funding programs. But in a statement, Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that "free movement" between the UK and EU countries — something that researchers say has fuelled scientific collaboration — would end, Nature News reports.

Those details will be hashed out in a later trade agreement after March 29 2019, when the UK leaves the EU and enters a transition period that ends in 2020.

A short framework document accompanying the draft agreement suggests that the eventual agreement may allow visa-free travel to and from all EU member states for short visits, Nature News adds. It also mentions science and innovation as a "basis for cooperation" on which the future agreement would be built.

The draft agreement also confirms that the UK will leave the European Atomic Energy Community but doesn't address whether Britain can retain membership to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in southern France. It also doesn't give any indication whether the UK-based test-bed for this project, which is largely funded by the EU, will receive any cash after its current contract expires at the end of this year, Nature News says.

The draft deal will now go to a vote in the UK parliament on Dec. 7. If UK lawmakers reject it, the UK and EU can re-negotiate, but that won't leave much time to reach a deal and get approval from the parliaments of the UK and EU before March 29, Nature News posits. That would leave the UK in a no-Brexit situation, which the research community has long feared.

A no-deal "would be very serious" for science and remains a possibility, Richard Catlow, foreign secretary of the Royal Society in London, tells Nature News. The society has already said that no-deal exit "will impact on scientific research immediately and could take years to rebuild" as the UK would instantly lose access to at least three of the major funding streams under the EU's current Horizon 2020 funding program, among other issues.