Saturday 27 July 2019 2:30 pm

No-deal Brexit a 'threat' to UK's science sector, says Wellcome Trust

The chairwoman of the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s biggest charitable funder of scientific research, has written to Boris Johnson claiming that a no-deal Brexit is a “threat” to the science sector.

Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller has backed Johnson’s vision for the science industry, but warned against the potential damage leaving the EU without a deal could do.

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She also asked that he up investment to German levels and ensure any immigration policies are “more welcoming” to top scientists, according to a letter seen by the BBC.

The Trust is responsible for £1bn of funding a year and is key to Johnson’s idea of the UK being a “science superpower”.

“While we do collaborative work of course with the US and areas outside Europe, Australia, Singapore, other countries – and those matter – the vast bulk of the collaborations are with Europe,” Manningham-Buller said.

“And if we amputate them, or make those collaborations difficult or harder to do – we will be the loser.”

She highlighted the 50 per cent decrease in European Union applications to study at the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, which has a history of ground-breaking discoveries.

She also addressed the no-deal Brexit issue in a letter to the Prime Minister, saying: “Wellcome spends around £1bn a year to support research, and most of our money is spent in the UK because it has a thriving sector. 

“Leaving the EU without a deal is a threat to that. I am afraid that some damage has already been done, with loss of researchers, and influence,” she wrote.

A former director general at MI5, Manningham-Buller said Brexit offered an opportunity for the UK to set global standards in emerging technologies, but cautioned that a no-deal Brexit was not conducive to that.

“We have an opportunity to build the science base here, to spend the sort of money our competitors are doing, to do a whole range of things,” she told the BBC.

“But we are at a tipping point. If we don’t do some of those things, if we make the UK unfriendly to scientists overseas, the damage that has already been done in the last three years by the uncertainty of Brexit will be compounded.”

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A spokesperson for Downing Street said the Prime Minister was committed to supporting Britain’s science sector and that he wanted to see the country offer “best environment for cutting edge scientific research”, and “welcome brilliant scientific talent”.

They added: “He has also been clear that we will continue to attract the brightest and best people from around the world.”