Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to make the UK a “science superpower” as he pledged to create a UK alternative to the EU’s flagship research funding programme.
The former chancellor, who is believed to be trailing rival Liz Truss in the race to succeed Boris Johnson, made the announcement ahead of the latest Tory hustings in Birmingham.
Mr Sunak, who called the West Midlands the “birthplace of the first Industrial Revolution”, said that as prime minister he would deliver a “better UK alternative” to the EU’s Horizon funding programme.
Horizon Europe has become the latest issue to spark a row between the UK and the EU, with the Government last week writing to the European Commission to “end persistent delays” to the UK’s access to EU scientific research programmes, including Horizon Europe, following Brexit.
The Sunak campaign accused the EU of dithering and “playing politics” on Horizon, with the funding that the UK would normally send to the EU for participation in the programme being used for the rival scheme.
The campaign said that while a Sunak administration would continue to push for the UK’s inclusion in the multibillion-euro project, the move will show that the UK is willing to walk away from “EU politicking”.
“From Alan Turing to the Covid-19 vaccine, the United Kingdom has a proud history of innovation and I want to support our great scientists and innovators to do more,” Mr Sunak said.
“We need to build a 21st century economy that is fit for the future. and science and innovation is pivotal to achieving that. That is why, as chancellor, I invested £1.4 billion in the Global Britain Investment Fund, to support investment in life sciences, offshore wind and automotive manufacturing.
“Science and innovation will be at the heart of my government. I will turbocharge clinical innovation to enhance our medicines research regime, deliver better access to funding and lab space, and ensure that we have access to the very best talent available.
“My plan will secure our status as a science and technology superpower, providing opportunity and spreading prosperity in every part of our United Kingdom.”
Part of the plan would see a so-called taskforce approach to science policy in government, with the role of science, technology and innovation upgraded after concerns that the role became increasingly peripheral during Mr Johnson’s tenure.
As part of his move to “turbocharge” clinical innovation, Mr Sunak said he would make the UK’s approval system for clinical trials easier to navigate, while also updating the medical device regulatory framework
One eye-catching proposal would also see local councils encouraged to put forward empty commercial and industrial space that could instead be used for laboratories.
“In addition to making these sites available to growing British companies, the Department for International Trade would administer a prospectus of these sites for inward investors,” the Sunak campaign said.