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Brexit 'could mean loss of science superpower status'

Science and technology firms could suffer in a "decade of uncertainty" following a British exit from the European Union, Universities Minister Jo Johnson will warn.

The minister will claim a vote to leave would be a "leap in the dark" - a view which puts him at odds with his elder brother Boris Johnson, one of the figureheads of the Brexit movement.

In a speech at Cambridge University, the minister will acknowledge that the UK could survive outside the EU - but its status as a "science superpower" would be put at risk.

Mr Johnson, who will be visiting the university with EU science commissioner Carlos Moedas, will hail Cambridge's position as "the most successful innovation cluster in Europe" with more than 1,500 hi-tech companies employing 60,000 people.

"As one of the most powerful engines of Britain's knowledge economy, it is a national asset of supreme importance," he will say.

"I want to ensure we sustain the momentum behind the Cambridge phenomenon and our national status as a global science superpower.

"We put in around 12% of all EU funding, but win around 15% of research funding, making us one of the largest beneficiaries of EU science programmes."

He will say that the "modern knowledge economy" depends on researchers working across borders and point to studies showing overwhelming support for remaining in the EU among scientists and university leaders.

"To thrive in the information economy we need to be open to the world, we need to be innovative, and we need to be building academic partnerships with our close neighbours, not turning our backs on them," he will say.

"Our competitors in other countries will not hang around during a decade of uncertainty that might follow a vote for Brexit.

"They will seize the opportunity to win new investment and build new research links. All this: at a time when the world economy remains extremely fragile.

"In the end, the British people will decide whether we are safer, stronger and better off as part of the EU.

"In this referendum campaign, it is vital that we have an evidence-based debate and properly informed choice.

"The facts matter. And few value evidence more than scientists. That's why we should take seriously the surveys showing nine out of 10 agree EU membership benefits UK science and engineering.

"That's why we should take seriously the fact that none of the 132 vice chancellors represented by Universities UK is advocating leaving.

"My clear view is that a vote to leave would be a leap in the dark, and one that would put the Cambridge phenomenon and our status as a science superpower at risk.

"While many factors explain Cambridge's success, it's clear that our close ties with the European Union are a crucial part of this great national success story.

"We could of course survive and prosper outside. I'm not saying we would lose eight centuries of achievement, or turn Silicon Fen back to marshland.

"But those who want to leave must explain how they will sustain the same levels of investment and the same depth of partnership if we were outside the EU."

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