The Foreign Office has told the LSE that non-UK academics should not do advisory work for the government on Brexit.
One of Britain’s most prestigious universities has accused the government of barring leading academics from acting as advisers on Brexit because they are not UK citizens.
The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) said it was told by the Foreign Office that non-British nationals were not allowed to work on projects about leaving the EU.
Sara Hagemann, one of nine LSE experts who have already been advising the UK government about Brexit, has revealed via social media that she has been summarily dropped as a government adviser.
She said the Foreign Office dropped her as an expert adviser on the grounds of her Danish nationality.
The LSE said in a statement that they believe their 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 public statement was followed by an internal email to staff, saying: "We will continue to stand by our colleagues and we strongly value the work you all do."
"The government’s decision has been criticised as ’baffling’, ’disrespectful’ and ’xenophobic’," said Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from London.
"And it is particularly strange since less than a month ago, Dr Sara Hagemann was one of three LSE experts asked to give a detailed media briefing on Brexit - the organiser of that briefing was the UK Foreign Office."
The Foreign Office, on the other hand, has denied the claims, saying that the university has misunderstood its guidance and that it has not changed its policy.
"It has always been the case that anyone working in the Foreign Office may require security clearance ... Britain is an outward looking nation and we will continue to take advice from the best and brightest minds regardless of nationality," it said in a statement.
Steve Peers, a professor of EU law, told Al Jazeera that he would be more inclined to believe the LSE, because academic institutions are very precise.
"We can’t be absolutely sure but governments and civil servants are in a awkward position politically and they always need to cover themselves if anything embarrassing comes out.
"University administrations, on the other hand, tend to be very precise, when they send the staff an email about their jobs, they try to make sure it is absolutely correct."
LSE is one of the world’s top universities, which counts financier George Soros, Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger and former US president John Kennedy among its alumni.
With around 9,600 full time students from 140 countries, the LSE is one of Britain’s most internationally diverse universities. It says over 100 languages are spoken on its campus in central London.
The row with LSE added spice to a tumultuous week for British politics which saw Theresa May, the UK prime minister, announce a date for triggering Brexit, a sterling plunge and a senior minister propose firms to disclose what percentage of their workforce was non-British.
"The Foreign Office is explaining it away as a misunderstanding," said our correspondent.
"Meanwhile the London School of Economics has pledged to stand firm to its principles of academic independence."