Conservative Party leadership candidate Rishi Sunak has unveiled plans to make the UK a “science superpower". Mr Sunak pledged billions of pounds for research and development and announced a proposal to create a UK alternative to the EU’s flagship research funding programme.
The former chancellor and contender to be Britain’s next prime minister made the announcement before the latest Tory hustings in Birmingham on Monday.
Calling the county of West Midlands where he was visiting the “birthplace of the first Industrial Revolution”, Mr Sunak 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. The government last week wrote 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 Europe. It said his administration would use the funding that the UK would normally send to the EU for participation in the programme on its rival scheme instead.
A long-standing Brexiteer, Mr Sunak’s campaign said his new programme would move away from focusing on what “countries like France think we should focus on” and look beyond the EU to international collaboration “on global challenges such as biosecurity".
While a Sunak administration would continue to push for the UK’s inclusion in the multibillion-euro project, his campaign said his proposal would 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. who is competing with Liz Truss to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, said.
“We need to build a 21st-century economy that is fit for the future — and science and innovation is pivotal to achieving that.”
The treasury’s £1.4 billion ($1.7bn) injection in the Global Britain Investment Fund for life sciences, offshore wind and automotive manufacturing during Mr Sunak’s tenure made him “one of the most pro-innovation and science chancellors in history”. This is a label he looks keen to take into a possible role as prime minister.
Mr Sunak said he plans to increase annual spending on public research and development investment to a record £20bn by 2024/25 under his administration.
“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.”
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, speed up the research grant process, and update the medical device regulatory framework.
Science should be at the “heart of our government, and not pushed out to the fringes of Whitehall,” the campaign said. It added that a Sunak administration would create a task-force approach to science policy.
Keen on supporting commercial development in industries such as life sciences, Mr Sunak’s plans include a “call for sites” from local councils who will be 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.