EU referendum: Stephen Hawking and 150 Royal Society fellows warn Brexit would be 'disaster for UK science'

'Being able to attract and fund the most talented Europeans assures the future of British science'

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Stephen Hawking and more than 150 Royal Society fellows have warned that quitting the European Union would be a “disaster for UK science”.

The world’s most famous physicist was joined by economists, mathematicians, engineers and a variety of scientists in writing a letter to The Times, arguing that Britain’s membership of the EU was crucial for two reasons.

“First, increased funding has raised greatly the level of European science as a whole and of the UK in particular because we have a competitive edge,” they wrote.

“Second, we now recruit many of our best researchers from continental Europe, including younger ones who have obtained EU grants and have chosen to move with them here.

“Being able to attract and fund the most talented Europeans assures the future of British science and also encourages the best scientists elsewhere to come here.”

The letter pointed out that after Switzerland, a non-EU member, had restricted the free movement of workers from the 28-nation bloc it had been forced to look “desperately” for ways to attract talented young scientists.

“If the UK leaves the EU and there is a loss of freedom of movement of scientists between the UK and Europe, it will be a disaster for UK science and universities,” they added.

“Investment in science is as important for the long-term prosperity and security of the UK as investment in infrastructure projects, farming or manufacturing; and the free movement of scientists is as vital for science as free trade is for market economics.”

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Angus Dalgleish, a spokesman for the pro-Brexit group Scientists for Britain, said: “The bottom line is that we put far more into Europe than we get out.

“Any difference we can easily make up with the money we would save.”