UK returns to EU Horizon programme

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The UK government has confirmed that the UK is to return to the EU’s £80bn science research programme Horizon Europe.

British scientists can now once again apply for grants from the £85bn programme, a move that will be welcomed by the science community in the UK which was once one of the leading beneficiaries of the fund.

While membership of Horizon Europe was agreed as part of the wider post-Brexit trade deal in December 2020 it was never ratified because of an ongoing row between the EU and the UK over Northern Ireland Brexit arrangements.

The Horizon programme is currently three years into a seven-year funding cycle and the European Commission said the UK would contribute about £2.6bn on average a year to Horizon and Copernicus, with the UK’s contributions due to start from January 2024.

The way for the UK’s return to Horizon Europe was cleared as far back as March after London and Brussels resolved their dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol as part of the Windsor settlement.

Before Brexit the UK had been one of the top beneficiaries of the Horizon programme and scientists are still eligible to apply for funding, which is underwritten by the UK government.

However, uncertainty around the UK’s position has dealt a hard blow to funding with data from the European Commission showing a huge drop in awards to British science programmes since 2019. In that year, €959.3m (£828.8m) went to the UK in 1,364 grants, compared with €22.18m in 192 grants in 2023 to date.

As part of the agreement, the UK will also rejoin the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation satellite programme. However, 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.