Despite the UK’s return to Horizon 2020, billions have been lost in funding

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The announcement from the UK government that the country is re-joining the European Horizon 2020 has been welcomed by the scientific and research community, although it has come too late for many researchers, businesses and academics who have missed out on funding worth billions.

Announcing the UK’s return to the flagship Horizon Europe science research programme, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that British scientists would be able to immediately apply for grants from the £85bn programme.

For the science community in the UK there was considerable relief at the news, as it was once one of the leading beneficiaries of the fund.

The UK will also rejoin the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation satellite programme, while the EU has agreed to the UK’s demand not to rejoin the Euratom programme. The UK will instead pursue a domestic fusion energy strategy.

Starting from January 2024 the UK is set contribute about £2.6bn on average a year to Horizon and Copernicus.

So, is this a real reset moment in terms of relations between the UK and the EU after the tumultuous years following the 2016 Brexit vote? Is it “a climate of restored trust”, as it was described by one European politicians?

Sunak claimed that this was, “the right deal for the UK, unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers.”

For the UK science community this is massive and essential step in re-building and strengthening the UK’s global scientific standing and emphasises the importance of international collaboration.

For critics of the government keeping the UK out of Horizon for so long has been a disaster, and many talented scientists and researchers have quit the UK, taking their research elsewhere.

The Horizon deal is a start in rectifying some of the grievous mistakes of a Brexit ideology that failed to understand that research is so much more than just money.

The deal shows that there is considerable good will and that progress between the UK and Europe can be made and new deals across several different sectors could now be on the cards.

Could Britain now go back into other EU schemes such as Erasmus, the student exchange programme?

Whatever the future holds, the tragedy of Brexit is that so much unnecessary damage was done to UK science and research which has missed out on vital funding and projects. This announcement, however, does offers a positive step forward.

While many see Brexit as a terrible mistake, this agreement signals a return to a more sensible and pragmatic approach in terms of the UK’s relationship with Europe.

But it’s been a long time coming.