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UK strikes new deal to rejoin Horizon Europe after Brexit tensions

Written by Thu 7 Sep 2023

The UK is set to rejoin Horizon Europe, the world’s largest research collaboration programme, after two years without access due to Brexit-related tensions.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it is the ‘right deal’ for British taxpayers whilst unlocking ‘unparalleled research opportunities’ within the £82 billion (€95.5 billion) programme.

Rejoining Horizon Europe: A New Dawn for UK Research

Starting 7 September 2023, UK-based researchers have the green light to apply for grants and participate in projects under the Horizon initiative. They can do so with the assurance that the UK will remain a fully associated member until the programme’s conclusion in 2027.

“The Horizon programme is unrivalled in its scope and opens up a world of opportunity for cooperation on science that delivers real-world benefits for the UK,” said Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Donelan emphasised the deal’s ability to create jobs, boost the economy, and foster collaborations on pressing issues like climate change and cancer research.

A significant aspect of this agreement is the UK’s renewed ability to join the governance of EU programmes. This is a privilege the UK had lost over the past three years due to Brexit-related disagreements, notably issues surrounding Northern Ireland.

With this regained access, the UK is poised to influence and shape collaborations set to commence next year. UK researchers will also be in a prime position to lead consortia in Horizon Europe’s upcoming work programme.

“From early detection of ovarian cancer to developing clean energy networks involving dozens of universities and many industrial partners, Horizon lets us do things that would not be possible without that scale of collaboration,” said Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, President of Universities UK.

The scope of this association extends beyond the EU. It paves the way for enhanced cooperation with countries already part of the programme, including Norway, New Zealand, and Israel. It also opens up cooperation with countries like Korea and Canada, which are looking to join.

A joint statement from The Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society celebrated the day as a milestone for UK and European researchers. They emphasised Horizon’s role in addressing global challenges and its significance in strengthening the UK’s research landscape.

Dame Professor Angela McLean, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, lauded the news, recognising the importance of international collaboration in solidifying the UK’s position as a leading force in science and technology.

The Path to Reassociation

This monumental decision follows conversations between Rishi Sunak and EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen on 6 September. Both leaders jointly encouraged UK scientists to apply with renewed confidence and have committed to collaborative efforts between the UK and EU to amplify participation.

Michelle Mitchell, CEO of Cancer Research UK, expressed relief at the agreement, emphasising its importance for cancer research and noting the significant role EU funding plays for many researchers in the field.

“It is great news for cancer research that agreement has finally been reached between the UK and EU …  the uncertainty of the last two and a half years has come to an end,” added Mitchell.

The ‘Right Deal’ for UK Taxpayers

The journey to this agreement spanned a six-month negotiation period. The financial terms of the deal have been meticulously crafted to amplify the benefits for UK scientists, ensure value for money for taxpayers, and counterbalance the setbacks caused by the EU’s association delays on researcher participation rates.

UK taxpayers will not pay for the time where UK researchers have been excluded from since 2021. Instead, costs will start from January 2024.

The UK will also have a new automatic clawback that protects the UK, as participation recovers from the effects of the last two and a half years. This means that the UK will be compensated should UK scientists receive significantly less money than the UK puts into the programme, which was not the case in the original agreement.

“This deal is a true win-win for everyone. The scale of research supported by Horizon Europe will help deliver … advances in areas such as AI to improve all our lives and help tackle the shared environmental, economic, and social challenges we face,” said Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive Officer of the Russell Group.

The UK ends Two-Year Hiatus from Horizon Europe

In the two years since the UK’s exclusion from Horizon Europe, Downing Street intervened to match the EU grant money that was lost. European Commission data underscored this disparity, revealing that UK science received grants totaling £822.5 million (€959 million) in 2019. In stark contrast, a mere £18.9 million (€22 million) has been awarded so far this year.

Collectively, this new deal is poised to generate and support thousands of new jobs, propelling the next generation of research talent. It aligns with the Prime Minister’s vision to bolster the economy and firmly establish the UK as a formidable science and technology superpower by 2030.

Grazia Vittadini, CTO for Rolls-Royce, acknowledged Horizon Europe’s role in aerospace advancements and expressed enthusiasm for the UK’s renewed participation.

Dr Diana Beech, CEO of London Higher, conveyed the research community’s renewed optimism, emphasising London’s potential as a research hub.

Broadening Horizons: Copernicus and Fusion Energy Decisions

In addition to Horizon Europe, the UK will also associate with Copernicus, the European Earth Observation programme. This association promises the UK’s earth observation sector access to invaluable data, crucial for early flood and fire warnings. It also reinstates their ability to bid for contracts, a privilege they had lost for three years.

John Hanley, Chair of the UKspace trade body, underscored the UK’s achievements within Copernicus and expressed eagerness to further the UK’s contributions to the Earth Observation Programme.

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Participating in Copernicus will enable the UK space sector to continue to play a significant role in the development of critical missions that will enable us to lead a global effort through the use of satellite data to find new solutions to the urgent challenge of climate change.”

However, in a strategic move aligned with the UK fusion sector’s preferences, the country has chosen a domestic fusion energy strategy over joining the EU’s Euratom programme. This strategy, backed by up to £650 million until 2027, promises close international collaboration, including with European partners.

Dr Nick Walkden, UK Director of the Fusion Industry Association, welcomed the UK Government’s new fusion programme as a promising alternative to Euratom association, recognising its commercial focus and potential impact on fusion energy development.

Leading Figures React to the Deal

Dr Diana Beech, CEO of London Higher, conveyed the research community’s renewed optimism.

“London’s higher education and research community now has a renewed sense of purpose and optimism that London can reach its true potential as a research powerhouse,” said Beech.

Professor Paul Stewart, Academy of Medical Sciences Vice President, acknowledged the benefits of Horizon Europe for the UK’s life sciences sector, highlighting the importance of international health research collaborations.

“Health research is an international endeavour, it relies on supporting the best ideas, but also on creating cross-border networks, which is good news for the UK, Europe and the rest of the world,” said Stewart.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, UKRI Chief Executive, highlighted the UK’s history of productive participation in EU schemes and expressed eagerness to harness the benefits of Horizon Europe.

“This decision enables us to build on those highly successful collaborations to maximise the opportunities membership of Horizon Europe provides,” said Leyser.

John Harrison, Chairman of Airbus UK, celebrated the UK’s rejoining of Horizon Europe and Copernicus, emphasising the UK’s contributions to Copernicus and the importance of Earth observation missions.

“We look forward to contributing to future Copernicus Earth observation missions, which play such a key role in understanding and tackling the planet’s changing climate,” said Harrison.

Ilan Gur, CEO of Advanced Research and Invention Agency, shared the importance of a robust scientific ecosystem for groundbreaking discoveries and celebrated the news as a boost for global scientific innovation.

“A strong, interconnected scientific ecosystem is the foundation of breakthrough discovery and invention. This is wonderful news — a boost to science innovation not just for the UK but for the world,” said Gur.

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Written by Thu 7 Sep 2023

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