Truss told pay EU £15bn and ‘strike deal urgently’ to avoid UK being at ‘disadvantage’

Liz Truss appointment ‘a disaster’ says Richard Tice

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The Foreign Secretary, who took over from Lord Frost as Brexit negotiator after he resigned on the weekend, has been told that being cut out of the project would “greatly disadvantage” British science. Britain was told it cannot participate in Horizon Europe until it resolves the Northern Ireland protocol issue and the fishing license dispute, despite UK involvement being part of the Brexit deal.

The UK was supposed to make a £7billion annual contribution to the project and £15billion in total so British scientists could access the EU’s huge pot of funds.

Now, science leaders are worried that if Ms Truss fails to strike a deal, it would leave UK participation off the cards entirely.

They argue this is a serious threat to the future of British science.

Ms Truss has said she wants to strike up a “comprehensive solution” to the Northern Ireland protocol, the agreement which requires post-Brexit checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

But she was warned by Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, that EU member states have a “limited” appetite to make agreements with the UK.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, told BBC News: “Losing the agreement on UK participation in the world’s biggest international science funding programme at this stage, when it has already been negotiated and is ready to sign, would be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

“While it’s natural for the Government to plan for the worst-case scenario, we have to realise that any UK-only scheme would greatly disadvantage our scientists compared to the international opportunities that Horizon Europe opens up, with both the EU and many other countries that take part in it, such as Israel or Norway.”

The Wellcome Trust joined scores of other health industry voices earlier this month who signed the European Health Stakeholder Group’s letter which urged the EU to let Britain participate in Horizon Europe as soon as possible.

It is now a worry that ramping up the quality of healthcare could be a fading prospect due to Britain’s exclusion from the project.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, told BBC News the EU’s refusal to let Britain re-join Horizon Europe would be a “significant blow” in the fight against cancer.

She said: “It will also put at serious risk the UK’s position of being at the forefront in the global effort in improving the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of cancer.

“The Government must strike a deal urgently for continued membership of Horizon Europe or the UK will weaken its position to collaborate and use science to address the global challenges we face.”

And the longer Britain have to wait to re-join, the more harm this causes, according to the science community.

This is because UK scientists and institutions cannot access the funds until a formal agreement is reached.

If it looks as though reaching an agreement would still take several months, EU researchers would be unlikely to include UK scientists in their projects.

Sir Jeremy said: “The delays are frustrating, but the UK needs to stay in the game and resist the urge to shut the door on Horizon. It’s the best option for supporting science and R&D in the UK.”

There have been fears that Britain might walk away from a deal and even trigger Article 16, which was threatened by Lord Frost last month.

European Vice Commissioner Maros Sefcovic warned this would have “serious consequences”.

In fact, the move would permanently exclude Britain from participating in Horizon Europe.

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But Britain does have backup options, according to Science Minister George Freeman, who hinted that the UK has a “bold Plan B” up its sleeve.

While Mr Freeman did say that there is a “strong preference” for the UK to re-join Horizon Europe, he warned that “if the EU stands in our way”, Britain’s alternative would be “just as good or better”.

Back in 2019, Professor Sir Adrian Smith drafted up this alternative before the UK’s withdrawal agreement as a backup in case the EU refused the UK entry into Horizon Europe.

Prof Smith, who is now President of the Royal Society, said: “We have had four decades of planning collaborative research with colleagues across Europe.

“The vast majority of UK researchers would feel difficulty in starting a new programme from scratch and being in competition with the prestigious schemes in the Horizon Europe programme.”

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