'The final months of 2019 could be a tipping point for UK science'

Wellcome's Chair, Eliza Manningham-Buller, has written to new Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on him to make a significant statement on science as soon as possible.

Illustration showing two petri dishes with EU flag stars

Credit: Wellcome

Dear Prime Minister,

Congratulations on becoming Prime Minister.

I write to urge you to set out as early as possible a bold and ambitious vision for UK science. From what you said outside Downing Street on Wednesday, and from your time as Mayor of London, I know that you understand the vital importance of supporting science for our prosperity, our health and for finding solutions to many of the challenges we face.

Investment in research and development should be at the heart of such a vision. We welcome the existing commitment to increasing R&D investment, but if we are to remain a science superpower, we will need to mirror those countries who plan to spend much more than we do, such as Germany. The key to this will be to ensure that increased public investment leads to an even greater private sector contribution towards the development and use of new technologies, including through patient capital.

Science is increasingly collaborative and international. We must become a global science hub, and to do this we need a much more welcoming immigration policy designed to attract the best researchers and their families to the UK. We need their talent to stimulate our own research.

Through our strength in research we can lead the response to global health emergencies such as Ebola. ODA funding underpins the UK’s work on this and needs to be maintained, not least as it can also attract philanthropy from elsewhere.

We could also become a world leader in the regulation of emerging technologies, such as genome editing and AI, and export this around the world. 

Wellcome spends around £1 billion 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. While science promotes global collaboration, the barriers to success need to be minimized, including with Europe where our closest and most extensive science relationships are. That means negotiating associated country status in the EU’s ‘Horizon Europe’ research programme, even if we intend to create our own systems in the years ahead.

The final months of 2019 could be a tipping point for UK science: either an exciting moment of renewed purpose and ambition, or the point at which the UK’s scientific reputation and success starts to wane. A significant statement on science from you therefore matters very much.

Yours sincerely,

Eliza

Baroness Manningham-Buller LG, DCB, FMedSci
Chair, Wellcome Trust

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