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UK can stay part of pan-EU science projects after Brexit, Brussels declares

Advocates for remaining in the single market and customs union call on political opposition to unite following breakthrough last night in Brussels.

The UK will continue to be eligible to apply for European Union science funding and participate in a wide range of pan-European academic research projects post-Brexit, the deal European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured) and Prime Minister Theresa May agreed last night states.

Though the pledge comes complete with the EU’s usual “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” caveat – meaning that it could all still fall through at the end of the next stage of the divorce negotiations – it has received a broad welcome from figures within the science and technology sector who had raised concerns about the impact of Brexit on research and innovation.

Campaign group Scientists for EU tweeted a hand clap emoji in praise of the announcement, which also appears to keep the door open for the UK’s continued participation in the Erasmus academic exchange programme.

However, some of those still pressing for the UK to remain an EU member state claimed that the deal marks nothing more than a continuation of existing arrangements but with less of the influence that comes from having a “seat at the table”.

The UK contributed to the multi-billion euro fund – which totals €80bn (£73bn) – set up as part of the Horizon 2020 programme, and British institutions will be entitled to bid for money for as long as this runs, provided provisions around co-financing are complied with.

The text of the agreement, released today by the European Commission, states: “Accordingly, the eligibility to apply to participate in Union programmes and Union funding for UK participants and projects will be unaffected by the UK’s withdrawal from the Union for the entire lifetime of such projects.”

On nuclear regulation and the UK’s decision to quit the transnational Euratom body, the agreement reiterates what the British government had already made clear – that the country will set up its own internal regime mirroring existing international arrangements.

The UK will be responsible for international nuclear safeguards within its territory as well as health and safety inspections of power stations.

The text of the document states: “Both sides have also agreed the principles of ownership for special fissile material (save for material held in the UK by EU27 entities) and responsibility for spent fuel and radioactive waste.”

Several senior energy insiders have warned there is simply not enough time to put in place such a complex regulatory structure by the time the UK leaves Euratom in 2019, meaning a transitional arrangement of some kind will be needed – something that will be discussed at the next phase of the Brexit negotiations.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the fresh deal would guarantee the rights of three million EU citizens in the UK and ensure there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The estimated Brexit bill is significantly lower than suggested by previous leaks, which put it at £50bn or more, according to the PA news agency. 

Advocates for remaining in the EU were cautions about the deal, however, stressing that talks could still be scuppered, meaning that Britain would crash out of the bloc.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, warned that the devil is in the detail” and suggested there was now an opportunity for those in opposition to unite behind a soft” Brexit, which would see the whole of the UK stay in the single market and customs union. Some so-called hard Brexiteers were also unhappy, warning that the contentious European Court of Justice would continue to exercise jurisdiction in Britain – although the government insisted this would be strictly time-limited.

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