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UK’s Foreign Office bans non-British academics from advising on Brexit, sparking criticism

The UK government is purportedly refusing advice from foreign academics on Brexit negotiations over “national security” concerns.

On Friday, local press reported that non-British experts working at the London School of Economics (LSE) had been told in an internal email that the Foreign Office no longer required their input on analysis and reports.

Speaking to The Independent, a source said that the instruction had been handed down because “sensitive trade relations were being examined”.

“They do not want academics from overseas involved – it seems to be about national security,” said the source.

Sara Hagemann, from Denmark, who is an assistant professor at the LSE’s European Institute, revealed the directive on Twitter last week, saying: “UK govt previously sought work & advice from best experts. Just told I & many colleagues no longer qualify, as not UK citizens.

The university has confirmed receiving the directive from the Foreign Office, saying that the move would “affect a number of our foreign academics working on different policy briefs”.

“We believe our academics, including non-UK nationals, have hugely valuable expertise, which will be vital in this time of uncertainty around the UK’s relationship with Europe and the rest of the world,” said an LSE spokesperson.

The university has vowed to stand by its non-UK academics, however, as LSE interim director Professor Julia Black sent an internal memo in support of their foreign colleagues.

In it, she said: “You may have seen reports in the media that the Foreign Office have advised us that they will be issuing tenders to contract for advisory work, but that only UK nationals will be eligible to apply.

“Whilst the Foreign Office has long had a rule restricting the nationality of employees or secondees, the extension of the bar to advisory work seems to be new. However, it is for the Foreign Office to determine what its national security arrangements are, and their legality, not for us.

“We are standing firm to our principles of academic independence and valuing our truly international community of scholars. We will continue to stand by our colleagues and we strongly value the work that you all do.”

The news has caused a storm of controversy, with many criticising the decision.

University and College Union (UCU) general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “If the government is indeed turning down advice from experts in European Union affairs purely on the basis of which country they are from, then this goes against the very nature of an open and independent academic community. 

“The decision will send a chill through the academic community and make it harder still to persuade people to study and work here.”

Steve Peers, a professor of EU law at the University of Essex, tweeted that using “national security” to justify the ban was a “very weak excuse”, adding that “UK civil servants can (& often do) seek advice of academics without disclosing details of negotiations underway”.

The Foreign Office has refuted the claim, though, saying that the story “stems from a misunderstanding”.

“It is categorically wrong to suggest that we would not welcome the work of non-British nationals, including EU nationals. We did so before the referendum and we will continue to do so in the future – benefiting from advice from the best and brightest minds, regardless of nationality,” it said in an official statement.

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