An academic whose research was championed by the prime minister’s key adviser Dominic Cummings has revealed he voted remain in the EU referendum and has hit out at the Conservatives’ Brexit plans.
Cummings endorsed the economic analysis of the University of Sheffield’s Prof Richard Jones in a blogpost on Wednesday in which he said he was sending out a “bat signal” to Brexit supporters that the general election was tighter than polls suggested. Cummings urged Brexiters to persuade their friends to vote Tory to avoid a hung parliament.
Jones told the Guardian that his research paper about the “resurgence of the regions” was “hardly a great endorsement for the last nine and a half years of Conservative-led government” and that he voted remain in 2016, fearing that leaving the EU would “result in a period of very damaging political chaos for the UK”.
Though he welcomed Cummings’ endorsement of his work, Jones expressed concern about the damaging consequences of Brexit. “I can’t say that subsequent events have made me think I was wrong on that,” he said.
The blogpost by Cummings, who was the architect of the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, railed against a potential Labour-led coalition with the SNP, which he said would “cheat a second referendum with millions of foreign votes”.
Cummings added a PS mention for Jones’s work, writing: “If you’re interested in ideas about how the new government could really change our economy for the better, making it more productive and fairer, you’ll find this paper interesting. It has many ideas about long-term productivity, science, technology, how to help regions outside the south-east and so on.”
Jones, a professor at Sheffield’s department of physics and astronomy, said: “Post-Brexit we’ll need to stay close to Europe in matters such as scientific cooperation … and in matters related to nuclear technology. We will need to be a country that welcomes talented people from overseas and provides an attractive destination for overseas investment. It doesn’t look like that’s the direction of travel the Conservatives are currently going down.”
Jones was tight-lipped on his voting intention in the election. He disclosed that he had attended a meeting about science funding at No 10 in September after an invitation from Cummings, who had got in touch after reading his blog in June. Cummings fleetingly attended the meeting, Jones recalled, but he had no “one-on-one dialogue with him”.
Jones said: “I think the analysis of the UK’s current economic weaknesses is important. I single out the terrible record of productivity growth since the financial crisis, the consequences of that in terms of flat-lining wages, the role of the weak economy in the fiscal difficulties the government has in balancing the books, (as others have done) and the profound regional disparities in economic performance across the country.
“I’d like to think that Cummings shares this analysis. The persistence of these problems, though, is hardly a great endorsement for the last nine and a half years of Conservative-led government.”
He called for radical changes in the economy, adding: “I think science and innovation is going to be important for this, and clearly Cummings thinks that too. I also offer some concrete suggestions for how the government needs to be more involved in driving innovation – especially in the urgent problem we have of decarbonising our energy supply to meet the target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“It’s good that the Conservative party has signed up to a 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas target, but the scale of the measures it proposes are disappointingly timid.”