Foundations open shop in Berlin as British philanthropy assumes Brexit footing

Charles Keidan

The world’s second largest Foundation, the London based Wellcome Trust, is advancing plans to grow its staffing and operations in Berlin ahead of the UK’s departure from the European Union. While The Trust insists its plans are evolving ‘independently’ of Brexit, political uncertainty about Brexit is spilling over into the UK’s foundation sector and could have significant implications for its future size and scope.

The Wellcome Trust, which works to improve health through medical research, has an endowment of £20 billion and makes grants well in excess of £700 million annually. Widely regarded as one of the UK’s leading scientific institutions, Wellcome announced the opening of a Berlin office on 11 October 2018 just days after the Trust’s Director, Jeremy Farrar used an article in The Observer to warn against the UK leaving the EU without a deal. ‘No deal leaves a void on access to funding, regulation and, critically, migration’. Farrar also noted that Wellcome’s support for UK scientific institutions and researchers was ‘not unconditional’ fuelling speculation about its plans in the European philanthropic sector. One observer describes Wellcome’s new office as an insurance policy and ‘back pocket option’ in the event that the UK suffers a catastrophic Brexit. ‘We have invested in the UK for more than 80 years…but if the conditions and the culture here are damaged, that will affect our support. It is not unconditional,’ warned Farrar last year.

Despite that, the Trust argues that the UK is a great place for science and innovation and wants to continue to invest the majority of its annual spending in the UK ‘as long as the country maintains the scientific excellence that allows us to invest here so confidently’ it noted in a statement to Alliance.

German investment in science, and its pre-eminent role in the EU, clearly make the country an attractive location.

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