UNITED KINGDOM: PM Rishi Sunak praises the “right deal for the country” as the UK rejoins the EU Horizon initiative. Sunak has confirmed that the UK will rejoin the flagship Horizon Europe science research programme.
Sunak affirms UK rejoining the Horizon project
Sunak announced that starting this Thursday, British scientists can once again seek grants from the £85 billion programme, a decision that will be enthusiastically received within the UK’s scientific community, which had previously been a significant recipient of funding from the programme.
“We have worked with our EU partners to make sure that this is the right deal for the UK, unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers,” said Sunak.
The deal was finalised following a conversation between Sunak and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on Wednesday evening.
As per a statement released by Downing Street, the UK will be rejoining the European Union’s Copernicus Earth observation satellite programme, which has played a vital role in monitoring various summer weather events, such as wildfires across Europe.
However, the EU has accepted the UK’s request not to participate in the Euratom programme. Instead, the UK will work on a national fusion energy plan.
The European Commission announced that the UK is expected to make an average annual contribution of approximately £2.6 billion to Horizon and Copernicus programmes, with these contributions slated to commence in January 2024. Downing Street indicated that this would also allow breathing room for UK researchers to participate in open calls for grants before we begin paying into the initiative.
The agreement is being viewed as a significant opportunity to improve relations between the UK and the EU.
Von der Leyen stated, “The EU and UK are key strategic partners and allies, and today’s agreement proves that point. We will continue to be at the forefront of global science and research.”
The scientific community breathed a collective sigh of relief as the deal was successfully completed. Adrian Smith, the President of the Royal Society, hailed the announcement as “fantastic news, not just for the UK but for scientists across the EU and for all the people of Europe”.
“Today’s agreement remains fully in line with the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement (TCA),” the European Commission stated in a statement. The UK is subject to all TCA protections and will have to make financial contributions to the EU budget.
Member states will need to ratify the agreement, with one diplomat cautioning that they will closely examine the details to ensure no deviations from the original deal occur.
The UK was excluded from the Horizon programme for three years due to a tit-for-tat dispute over Northern Ireland’s Brexit trading arrangements. In December 2020, Lord Frost negotiated an associate membership, typically available for non-EU countries, but this deal remained unratified due to the Northern Ireland issue.
The path to rejoining the programme in February 2023 was cleared when the Windsor framework was agreed upon, but discussions on the precise financial terms prolonged the negotiations.
From the start, it was understood that the UK would not be responsible for covering the cost of the years of absence.
The agreement also incorporates the original 2020 agreement’s underperformance clause, which allows for compensation to the UK “should UK scientists receive significantly less money than the UK puts into the programme.”
It suggests an alternative plan to the original deal’s corrective mechanism, which involved rebates starting to apply above a specific threshold.