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UK’s return to EU science programme in doubt

Posted on the 25th July 2023

EU Horizon UK Return

The UK’s much-anticipated return to the EU’s £85bn Horizon science research programme appears to be in doubt following London’s request to quit the associated atomic research organization, Euratom.

While many had anticipated the announcement of a deal in early July, no agreement has been reached on the Euratom situation or the rebates requested by the UK for its late association with the programme.

The delays are said to be causing huge anxiety in the scientific community.

According to sources quoted by Research Professional News, a publication for academics, the European Commission has offered the UK the option of either exiting from Euratom or a financial adjustment but not both.

Under the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement, British contributions were to be based on research funds awarded to UK projects from 2019.

The UK argued that contributions should be based on success rates in 2023, which would be much lower given the reduced applications to the fund due to the uncertainty over membership.

Before Brexit, the UK was one of the top beneficiaries of the Horizon programme and scientists are still eligible to apply for funding, which is underwritten by the UK government.

However, the uncertainty over the UK’s membership and its inability to lead pan-EU research while outside the programme has dealt a blow.

Data from the European Commission shows a huge drop in awards to British science programmes since 2019. In that year, €959.3m (£828.8m) went to the UK in 1,364 grants, compared with €22.18m in 192 grants in 2023 to date.

The UK was locked out of Horizon in 2020 in a tit-for-tat dispute over the failure to implement the Northern Ireland protocol trade arrangements in the original Brexit withdrawal agreement.

But the door to associate membership was reopened when the replacement Windsor framework was sealed in March, with the European Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, declaring a deal could be done “swiftly”.

The government’s plan B involved separate science funds for the UK but science leaders have said membership of Horizon is imperative for international collaboration, talent recruitment and the advancement of science, which they say is not a solo endeavor.

Related: Scientists dub UK science plan a ‘sticking plaster’

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