Rishi Sunak’s Brexit freedoms could trigger £80bn science funding boom

Rishi Sunak Prime Minister EU Brexit freedoms science funding - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Rishi Sunak Prime Minister EU Brexit freedoms science funding - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Brexit freedoms unveiled by Rishi Sunak are set to help Britain unleash an £80 billion science funding boom, The Telegraph can reveal.

The Government plans to seize on City reforms to unlock huge reserves of cash for new research and development projects across the country.

It is part of ambitious proposals drawn up by ministers to capitalise on the decision to leave the European Union by turning the UK into a science superpower.

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, announced that he will scrap swathes of Brussels red tape that restricts how much money pension firms can invest.

Industry experts said the move could unlock £100 billion of extra finance, with science projects set to be in line for some of the cash.

Attracting overseas investment

Last year, when Mr Sunak was chancellor, ministers announced they will commit £20 billion a year to research and development by 2025.

Once post-Brexit reforms are passed, it is understood that the Government hopes to attract three times that amount in private investment.

Alongside freeing up pension funds to put money into UK science projects, Number 10 is also keen to bring in more business funding from overseas.

Ministers believe that the move could help reignite the levelling up agenda, with much of the cash set to go to the post-industrial North and the Midlands.

Investment would be centred around innovation clusters, with each region specialising in different areas such as satellites or robotics.

UK researchers could be ‘benched indefinitely’

The news came after Mr Sunak ordered officials to “accelerate” plans for a post-Brexit alternative to Horizon, the EU’s research and development programme.

Brussels has been refusing to grant Britain access to its £85 billion scheme unless the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol has been resolved.

George Freeman, the science minister, has drawn up a plan that would focus more on Britain’s strengths and ties with other countries across the globe.

He recently secured significant science collaboration deals with Switzerland and Japan, and is currently in talks with Israel.

Announcing a £119 million International Science Partnerships Fund, Mr Freeman said: “We cannot allow UK researchers to be ‘benched’ indefinitely while we wait.

“If we cannot play in the European Cup of science, we must play in the World Cup of science.”

PM ‘considers Horizon alternative’

The Prime Minister initially favoured remaining in Horizon, but is now said to be “seriously considering an alternative” given the EU’s intransigence.

He has been examining whether the £2 billion a year membership fee, of which Britain would get around 80 per cent back, represents value for money.

During his bid for the Tory leadership last summer, Mr Sunak pledged to “deliver a better UK alternative to Horizon Europe”.

He said that research institutions would be guaranteed the same amount of cash under the new domestic scheme as they would have got in the EU.

Mr Sunak pledged: “We will move away from the system of just focusing on what countries like France think we should focus on, instead creating a streamlined approach that will deliver agile innovation funding that focuses on our strategic strengths such as life sciences and net zero technology.”