Brexit doesn't mean tight immigration, minister tells scientists

FILE PICTURE: Protesters wave Europen Union flags during an anti-Brexit demonstration after Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the process by which the United Kingdom will leave the Euopean Union, in Birmingham, Britain March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's decision to quit the European Union and reassert control over its borders does not mean the country will tighten immigration for the world's best brains, junior business minister David Prior said on Tuesday.

"Be in no doubt, whatever you might have heard or read in the papers, that Brexit should not be considered synonymous with a tight immigration policy," he told an audience of scientists at a synthetic biology conference at Imperial College London.

"We absolutely know we need to attract the best in the world to come to our country."

Many scientists are concerned about the impact of Brexit, following a referendum on leaving the EU in which immigration was a key issue for voters.

Prior sought to allay those fears, spelling out the government's determination to invest in skills and funding for scientific research.

Academics argue that belonging to the EU has been a boost for British science by allowing universities to take part in pan-European research programmes and recruit talent from across Europe without restrictions.

The issue is also important for science-based companies, such as British drugmakers GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca , both of which have identified access to talent as a potential problem in a post-Brexit world.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)