BRITAIN leaving the European Union would be “catastrophic” for cutting-edge science research in Southampton, a city MP has warned.

Alan Whitehead said the University of Southampton made an “enormous contribution” to research and development (R&D) – helping to make Britain a world leader.

The Test MP highlighted Southampton’s pioneering work in fibre-optic research, which had “spawned an entire photonics industry”, worth £10bn and with 70,000 employees.

However, in a Commons speech, Dr Whitehead warned that proud record was in jeopardy because of puny Government investment, in comparison with many other countries.

And he painted a gloomy picture of the future if the UK votes to quit the EU, in the referendum promised by David Cameron by the end of 2017.

Dr Whitehead said: “If we shut ourselves away from Europe, we will throw away the advantage that we have in this country, in terms of our future R&D.

“It is potentially catastrophic for the future competitiveness of this country and the future of the sort of arrangements that I have explained exist in Southampton.”

The MP also questioned what will happen to the university’s research potential if the “funding tap is turned off in the future”.

He told ministers: “Southampton University is not only among the top universities in the country, but makes an enormous contribution.

“Southampton’s SETsquared initiative brings together a number of universities to incubate businesses and spin-offs from the research done at universities.

“That is now regarded as the prime business incubator involving the university sector in Europe. In the science park, there are 86 companies - 29 are start-ups or spin-offs.”

Dr Whitehead likened the situation – where the UK spends only 0.5 per cent of GDP on R&D – to the Marx Brothers film ‘Go West’.

He explained: “The brothers realise that the train that they are embarked on simply does not have enough fuel on board and they spend quite a long time running through the train and smashing up the carriages to get wood to put in the engine, in order to get the train to the station.

“The train gets to the station, but unfortunately it is not a train any more. That is where we are with R&D, particularly higher education R&D, in this country.

“We are smashing up our own resource to keep the show on the road.”