Over the Horizon?

1 min read

It’s looking increasingly likely that the UK is going to abandon the Horizon Europe programme, terminating the UK’s proposed associate membership.

British universities are said to have made a last-ditch appeal to the European Commission to help save the UK’s membership and have called for a meeting with the Commission’s vice-president, Maroš Šefčovič.

There is certainly a growing sense of urgency at it now appears that the UK government is preparing to abandon the programme for joint research projects across Europe.

In fact, according to representatives of Universities UK (UUK), ministers are at an ‘advanced stage’ in planning alternatives to membership and a decision could be made this month.

Professor Paul Boyle, the vice-chancellor of Swansea University, has warned that many UK members have already reported that their researchers have been forced to leave research consortia and with a growing sense of uncertainty pervading all aspects of the research establishment, frustration is growing at the failure of the UK and EU to finalise the UK’s Horizon Europe associate membership.

The sad thing is if the UK does leave Horizon both sides will end up losing out. As Boyle has warned this, “would be a lose-lose for health, wealth and wellbeing and would do a disservice to future generations in Europe and beyond”.

While associate membership had been agreed when Brexit was formalised in 2020, the EU has delayed a final decision while the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol remains unsolved.

A UK government spokesperson has said, “If the UK is unable to associate soon, we will introduce a comprehensive alternative to promote global science, research and innovation collaboration.”

To date a growing list of UK academics and institutions have been notified that they can no longer lead research projects funded by the project.

Who is to blame for this impasse? The UK is blaming EU politicking while the EU suggests that UK backsliding over the Northern Ireland protocol is undermining confidence and trust in this tricky and increasingly duplicitous government.

I’m no fan of the Johnson administration but everyone will lose if there is a failure to agree UK associate membership.

As each day passes the agreement that Johnson signed up to reveals how little he prioritised the national interest.

Get Brexit done by all means, but at what cost? A decision to quit Horizon would be an act of immense political self-harm that would benefit no one.

‘Act in haste, repent at leisure.’ How very true of this botched Brexit deal.