The British government has told the London School of Economics (LSE) that it does not want non–UK nationals to work on a Brexit-related project, BuzzFeed News has learned.
The LSE was asked by the Foreign Office (FCO) to prepare a series of policy briefs on Brexit. But on Friday it emerged that non-UK national staff were told by email the department did not want them working on the project.
BuzzFeed News understands the FCO is concerned that the work would include the sharing of sensitive trade information, and having non-UK nationals involved could pose a security risk.
The LSE confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the decision was taken following a message from the FCO.
A spokesperson said “the UK government regularly calls upon LSE’s world-class academics for their advice on a range of issues".
The statement continued: "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."
The spokesperson added: "Any changes to security measures are a matter for the UK government.”
By late Friday, seven hours after a request for comment the FCO issued a statement denying its policy had changed as a result of Brexit. A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The FCO regularly works with academic institutions to assist in its policy research and nothing has changed as a result of the referendum. It has always been the case that anyone working in the FCO may require security clearance depending on the nature and duration of their work.
“Britain is an outward-looking nation and we will continue to take advice from the best and brightest minds, regardless of nationality.”
But Bruno Waterfield, the Brussels correspondent of The Times unearthed the message to staff from the LSE's interim director, Professor Julia Black, in which she informed them of the government's change in policy that would exclude non-UK nationals from certain projects. Black was previously the pro director of research in the LSE's Department of Law.
And according to The Financial Times, the dispute stems from a meeting between the head of the LSE's European Institute, Kevin Featherstone, and the FCO's head of research, Nathaniel Copsey.
An LSE spokesperson told the FT: "At that meeting Professor Featherstone was told that academics working on that project going forward would have to be UK passport holders only."
Copsey, who is on secondment to the FCO from his position of chair of European Union politics and professor of politics at Aston University in Birmingham, later retweeted comments condemning the non-British researcher ban.
The retweet was the first activity on Copsey's Twitter account in over a year, although it does not necessarily indicate that he endorses the comments.
When contacted by BuzzFeed News for comment, Copsey directed us to the statement issued by the FCO on Friday.
Responding to the story, former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: "It is utterly baffling the government is turning down expert, independent advice on Brexit simply because someone is from another country."
Other experts were left confused by the FCO's decision, given the UK's shortage of trade negotiators.
BuzzFeed News understands that eight or nine LSE staff will be affected by the decision, with possibly even one dual national affected.
One of the EU nationals affected, Sara Hagemann, an assistant professor in the university's European Institute, tweeted about the decision on Thursday.