THE Tory government has been told to stop using cancer research as a “political football”.

The warning comes after a Glasgow-based, world-leading cancer expert said he was considering moving a major research project abroad because of a Brexit-linked impasse over EU funding.

Dr Payam Gammage, of the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, and who is a world expert in how DNA in the cell’s energy factories – mitochondria – mutate to become the engines of cancer, recently won £2 million in EU funding but is unable to access it because of the impasse.

He is among a number of researchers who have expressed concern after talks aimed at securing associate membership of the £80 billion Horizon Europe programme collapsed. The lack of progress, which is connected to disagreement over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol, led to UK-based European Research Council (ERC) awardees being informed that grants would be terminated unless they move projects to the EU or an associated country.

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Now Dr Ian Walker of Cancer Research UK has called for the next Prime Minister and Government to “break the impasse”.

He said that otherwise, Gammage and others like him would be forced to choose between hoping the Horizon Europe association would be ratified and be unable to access the money in the meantime – or take the “gamble” of applying to the UK Research and Innovation for funding.

Walker said: “Cancer research is tangled up in the ongoing political dispute on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“The UK’s future involvement in Horizon Europe, the EU’s flagship programme for funding scientific research with a budget of more than £80bn hangs precariously in the balance.”

Walking away from Horizon Europe now because of the dispute would mean cancer scientists and patients in the UK, EU, and further afield would be the biggest losers, Walker warned.

“The EU’s recent flagship Cancer Mission is funding talented scientists working together through Horizon Europe to support the research needed to deliver significant improvements in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment,” he said.

He added that while the UK Government had been “talking up” its “Plan B”, it was unlikely to match up to Horizon Europe.

“UK scientists shouldn’t feel the need to make the choice between moving to an EU member state to guarantee Horizon Europe funding or taking the gamble of a UK only replacement. Some may end up voting with their feet which will have dire consequences for the UK’s ambitions to become a science superpower” he said.

Walker added that a “big task” for the next prime minister and government would be to “break the impasse” over the protocol.

He said: “My message to them is simple – it’s time to stop using cancer research as a political football. Both the UK and EU must keep the commitment to an association agreement alive, and the new prime minister must commit to protecting the UK’s planned financial commitment to Horizon Europe in full. Plan A is still the best option for British science and the British people.”