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Europe was key to my $1bn funding, Gates warns

Bill Gates, the world’s wealthiest man and the most generous philanthropist, warns today that Britain will be a “significantly less attractive place to do business and invest” if outside the European Union.

In a letter to The Times, the Microsoft founder, who has invested more than $1 billion in Britain, raises questions over his future commitment to the country if voters back Brexit next week. He indicates that access to the EU’s single market, which other European leaders say they will deny to Britain if it leaves the bloc, helped to swing Microsoft’s decision to site research facilities in Cambridge.

The entrepreneur praises Britain’s leadership in research and innovation. He warns, however, that the country would lose ground as it struggled to attract the best international talent outside the EU.

“These investments [in Britain] make sense because of the unique assets that the UK has — excellent universities with a strong heritage in science and innovation, world-class healthcare businesses like GlaxoSmithKline and access to the single European market,” he writes. “While ultimately a matter for the British people to decide, it is clear to me that if Britain chooses to be outside of Europe, it will be a significantly less attractive place to do business and to invest.

“It will be harder to find and recruit the best talent from across the continent; talent which, in turn, creates jobs for local people in the UK. And, it would be harder to raise the investment needed for public goods like new medicines and affordable clean energy solutions, for which we need the scale of collaboration, knowledge sharing and financial backing that the combined strength of the EU provides.”

Mr Gates’ decision to give away his fortune to good causes has made him an influential and hugely respected figure. A YouGov poll this year found that he was the most admired man in the world.

Microsoft came out for staying in the EU last month, but stressed that its “commitment remains firm” to its 3,500-strong workforce.

In making his personal intervention, Mr Gates, whose foundation helped to eradicate polio from India, says new medicines and cleaner technologies require close cooperation between nations that only the EU allows.

“I’ve seen first-hand Britain’s strong influence at the negotiating table on numerous global issues and the enormous sway it wields as a powerful member of the European Union in these crucial debates,” he writes. “Beating future epidemics and finding solutions to climate change will require more collaboration, not less.

“Europe is stronger with Britain in it; and likewise, Britain is stronger, more prosperous and more influential as a member of the European Union.”

His intervention came as evidence emerged that big businesses were more worried about Brexit than their smaller competitors. Almost two thirds (62 per cent) of large companies with turnovers of more than £25 million think leaving the EU would hit the economy, according to a poll of 3,394 business owners and finance directors by the Charterhouse Research consultancy.

Only 38 per cent of start-ups and 34 per cent of small companies with turnovers of less than £100,000 believed it would be bad for the economy.

The development occurred as Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, urged the 600,000 Irish-born voters in Britain to vote to remain. He said: “If you are living in Wigan or St Helens or Liverpool and you are Irish, when you go out to vote next week, if your vote is to stay . . . you are making things a little easier for our own country.”