Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test, has warned that a British exit (or ‘Brexit’) from the European Union would be ‘catastrophic’ for the city and would severely damage the city’s reputation as a place of world class scientific research.
In a speech to the House of Commons on 30 June, Dr Whitehead highlighted the ‘enormous contribution‘ that the University of Southampton had made to scientific research and development, such as pioneering research into fibre-optics which he believed was responsible for the creation of an industry now worth £10 billion and employing 70,000 people.
He warned that both the UK and Southampton were at risk of losing their potential to conduct further research if Britain voted to leave the EU in the referendum which David Cameron has said he will conduct in 2017, telling MPs:
If we shut ourselves away from Europe, we will throw away the advantage that we have in this country, in terms of our future R&D. It is potentially catastrophic for the future competitiveness of this country and the future of the sort of arrangements that I have explained exist in Southampton.
The veteran MP also warned against any reduction in scientific research funding, adding that the university’s research ability would be drastically reduced if funding was lowered. He mentioned the University’s SET squared initiative, which in collaboration with a number of other institutions aims to help the development of businesses born out of University research. He pointed out that 29 of the businesses in the University of Southampton Science Park were either start-ups or spin offs from such research.
Dr Whitehead also described the current amount of funding spent on academic research as inadequate, saying of the current 0.5% of GDP spent on R&D: ‘ we are smashing up our own resource to keep the show on the road’.