Sam Gyimah struggles to soothe scientists searching for missing £1bn
The universities minister had a tough gig on the Today programme.
“A hard Brexit could cripple UK science, and the government needs to sit up and listen,” Theresa May has been told by a Nobel prize-winner for research into breast cancer.
Francis Crick Institute director Sir Paul Nurse is one of 29 Nobel Laureates and six winners of the prestigious Fields medal to have signed a letter to May and Jean-Claude-Juncker. It comes as a survey conducted by the institute found that half of its 1,050 staff would probably leave the country after the UK withdrew from the EU.
This morning the unfortunate task of trying to insist that the government is definitely still bothered about science fell to universities minister Sam Gyimah. Appearing on The Today programme alongside Sir Paul, the minister appeared to understand the scale of the problem and made a lot of the right noises. But he was stumped when asked where a lost £1bn would come from after Brexit.
“Well, the programme is being designed, we have made clear what our priorities are as far as the new EU programme is concerned, that we want to programme to be focused on excellence and deliver value for money,” he waffled when asked the first time.
He added that the government had a “target” of increasing spending on research and development. But not until 2027.
Asked for a second time where the missing £1bn would come from, the minister admitted defeat: “Well... Paul... it's... I can't discuss now the shape of the deal we’re going to have."
It would be fair to say that the Francis Crick Institute director did not leave the Radio 4 studio convinced that the government had a workable plan for UK science to prosper after Brexit.
“Sam, you didn’t answer my question… This isn’t a problem that’s been solved,” he said.
He went on: “Poor Sam’s trying to negotiate this but we haven't seen anything out there that gives us confidence this thing is going to be delivered. I can’t tell you how depressed our young scientists are about all the messages that are coming out of government.
“This is just awful. I talk to them all the time. You need to get the messaging much better. You need to be much more positive not just about science but what young people can contribute - and the rest of the world.
“You’re letting your extremists dominate the debate. You’ve got to get a grip of them and stop them sending all these bad messages.”