False dawn?

1 min read

The breakthrough deal announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with the EU addressing the issues relating to the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol has been welcomed by the majority of MPs in Parliament as well as by business and academia.

The agreement was particularly welcomed by the UK’s scientific community which is hopeful that it would be able to once again participate in the €100bn Horizon Europe programme.

Over two years, researchers in the UK have received little funding from this EU flagship programme due to the ongoing arguments that affected Brexit trade deal negotiations.

Crucial grants have been lost and UK researchers have been unable to collaborate with their EU peers, with the UK fast becoming an increasingly less attractive location for European researchers and students.

Under the terms of the Windsor Framework the UK could once again be able to link up with Horizon Europe. Hopes were certainly given a boost when Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, described the agreement as, “good news for scientists and researchers in the EU and in the UK”.

The UK’s full participation in Horizon Europe would not only benefit the UK but Europe as well and would help to re-establish and rebuild closer science collaboration across Europe.

Even if the UK is able to re-join Horizon Europe, it will take two to three years for the levels or participation in projects and consortia to return to where they were pre-Brexit and even longer to re-establish the networks vital to collaborative research.

However, reports are now suggesting that Sunak is in no rush to join Horizon, and he is said to be sceptical about the value of the research programme and whether the UK should be routing its science budget through Brussels. In fact, he is looking at Plan B that would develop the UK’s own global science collaboration plan.

Many scientists believe that it is now vital that decisive action to get association over the line is completed so that UK science can end the ongoing uncertainty and unlock the enormous benefits it will bring to scientists and researchers both in the UK and across Europe.

Associate membership is a win-win for European science.

So, is Sunak using Horizon to placate the Brexiteers in his party who through gritted teeth have accepted the Windsor Framework and to whom any association with the EU is anathema?

If that’s the case, then he’s risking UK science for purely political reasons. And that would be unforgiveable.