Brexit fury as Britain ‘ready’ to deny EU £15billion with ‘better’ plan

Lord Frost gives update on UK’s participation in Horizon Europe

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Horizon Europe is the £80billion pool of funding that European scientists and institutions have access to. Britain had planned to join as part of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), contributing £15billion over seven years so the science community could access those funds and help form long-term fellowships and international industrial collaborations for UK universities and researchers.

But the UK has had its formal association delayed until it resolves the Northern Ireland protocol and Brexit disputes, even though it was part of the TCA and non-EU countries are still being allowed to join.

Despite science leaders and key industry voices sounding the alarm at the serious harm the delay is causing British science, Science Minister George Freeman says the UK has a trick up its sleeve.

In an opinion piece for Research Professional News, Mr Freeman wrote: “If the EU stands in our way, we are ready with a seamless transition to something just as good, or better.”

Mr Freeman said that instead of partnering with the EU, we could look to different partnerships to help strengthen Britain’s science sector.

He said: “In the longer term, we would establish an ambitious offer that delivers many of the advantages of Horizon association along with additional benefits of wider global participation.

“Partnerships with the European research community will remain at the core of our international research offer, but we are also looking to strengthen other relationships, including in the Indo-Pacific and North America.”

This comes as Liz Truss, who became chief Brexit negotiator after Lord David Frost’s resignation, was urged to strike a deal with the EU to salvage Britain’s involvement in Horizon Europe.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, told BBC News: “Losing the agreement on UK participation in the world’s biggest international science funding programme at this stage, when it has already been negotiated and is ready to sign, would be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Sir Jeremy does not seem convinced that a Plan B would be enough to match horizon Europe.

He said: “While it’s natural for the Government to plan for the worst-case scenario, we have to realise that any UK-only scheme would greatly disadvantage our scientists compared to the international opportunities that Horizon Europe opens up, with both the EU and many other countries that take part in it, such as Israel or Norway.”

But Mr Freeman does recognise that the UK needs to be a part of Horizon Europe and is furious with the EU for delaying Britain’s participation.

He wrote: “Horizon Europe—the European Union’s key funding programme for research and innovation, worth €95.5 billion over seven years—has been such a valuable initiative for strengthening UK research.

“We are very disappointed by the persistent delays from the EU in formalising associate membership.

“This issue has been my top priority since becoming science minister eight weeks ago, and we know many in the EU recognise and support the UK’s participation.”

Mr Freeman is now scrambling to bring confidence back to the science community, who are becoming increasingly frustrated by the delays.

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Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, told BBC News that Britain’s exclusion would deal a “significant blow” to the fight against cancer
She said: “It will also put at serious risk the UK’s position of being at the forefront in the global effort in improving the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of cancer.

“The Government must strike a deal urgently for continued membership of Horizon Europe or the UK will weaken its position to collaborate and use science to address the global challenges we face.”
But while collaboration with Europe could be off the cards, Mr Freeman has reassured that the funding could still be on the table.

He said: “In light of the delays, it is important to make our commitment to Horizon clear. We also need to reassure the research community that the UK government will support “in-flight” bids that would normally be eligible for EU funding.”

But he warned that the funding is only a “short-term measure designed to give innovators and businesses the stability and reassurance they need to continue applying to Horizon funding calls”.

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