Europe map lightened up

UK rejoins Europe’s £81bn Horizon research programme

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UK scientists will once again be able to access funding from the EU’s flagship research programme after a deal was struck between London and Brussels.

After months of tense negotiations, the UK and the EU have reached a deal regarding the former's membership of the bloc’s research programmes. 

Under the agreement, the UK will become an associate member of the €95bn (£81bn) Horizon Europe programme, meaning that scientists can start applying for grants under the scheme with immediate effect. The long-delayed decision has been celebrated across scientific and business communities as a step forward for the UK’s research sector. 

“With a wealth of expertise and experience to bring to the global stage, we have delivered a deal that enables UK scientists to confidently take part in the world’s largest research collaboration programme – Horizon Europe,” said Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister. 

“We have worked with our EU partners to make sure that this is the right deal for the UK, unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers.”

The UK’s associate membership of the scheme was foreseen in the 2020 Brexit agreement. However, the EU has been delaying the UK’s membership due to the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Nonetheless, the signing of the Windsor Protocol in February has seemed to solve the disagreements. 

“The EU and UK are key strategic partners and allies, and today’s agreement proves that point,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission. “We will continue to be at the forefront of global science and research.”

As part of the agreement, the UK will also become an associate member of Copernicus, the EU’s €9bn (£8bn) Earth observation programme. This provides member countries with access to valuable climate data to support early flood and fire warnings and keep track of global warming. 

However, Sunak has declined membership of the bloc’s nuclear programme Euratom R&D. Instead, the UK will pursue its own nuclear strategy, supported by a new £650m investment to 2027, the government said. 

Sir Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), welcomed the announcement: “The government’s commitment to an ambitious alternative R&D programme will be hugely important in sustaining the UK’s position as a leader in fusion R&D, as well as developing an industrial capability to deliver future fusion power plants.”

The European Commission said the decision would be “beneficial to both” and stated that “overall, it is estimated that the UK will contribute almost €2.6bn (£2.2bn) per year on average for its participation to both Horizon and Copernicus”.

The deal was considered a relief to the British scientific community, which has been greatly affected by the lack of access to Horizon funds. Oxford and Cambridge Universities alone, which used to receive over £130m a year from European research programmes, are now only being granted £1m annually between them.

Last year, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said the EU’s refusal to finalise access is “causing serious damage to research and development in both the UK and EU member states”. 

Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute, said he was “thrilled to finally see that partnerships with EU scientists can continue”.

Michelle Donelan, secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, said: “Today is a fantastic day for UK science and our whole economy. We have listened to the sector, and through hard work and negotiation we have secured an excellent deal for researchers, taxpayers and businesses.”

Dr Jonathan Memel, senior manager of grants at Ayming UK, said: “It’s fantastic to finally see ink on paper for the UK’s Horizon membership. It represents the end of an episode that has put UK R&D in limbo for years.

“Scientists and corporate innovation leaders across the UK can breathe a heavy sigh of relief now that they will have access to both the funding and collaboration opportunities afforded by membership. It opens up an additional pool of funding that could top up the UK’s innovation budget by billions.”

The agreement will still need to be ratified by EU member states. 

In the past, countries such as Norway, Iceland and Turkey have been granted access to the programmes, despite not being members of the EU.

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