EU’s bitter Brexit revenge ‘damaging’ UK as Brussels withholds key funding, Lords warn

Lord Frost gives update on UK’s participation in Horizon Europe

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Launched last year as the successor to the Horizon 2020 programme, Horizon Europe is a seven-year initiative to provide funding for scientific research and innovation. Horizon Europe — which is intended to boost European science spending by 50 percent come 2027 and launched with a budget of around €95.5billion — is open to applications from both within the EU and associated countries. Back in late 2020, alongside signing the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the UK and the EU reached an agreement in principle that the UK would associate with Horizon Europe after Brexit — but this arrangement has yet to be finalised, more than a year later.

The European Affairs Committee expressed its concerns about this “ongoing and mutually damaging” delay in letters sent yesterday to the European Commission, the European Parliament and UK Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss.

In early February, they had consulted representatives of both the UK and the EU science and research communities about association with Horizon Europe — hearing evidence from Universities UK and the Royal Society as well as receiving a written submission from the Russell Group universities, which includes both Cambridge and Oxford.

In their letter, the Committee wrote: “We strongly endorse the view of our witnesses that securing the UK’s association to Horizon Europe is critical for the UK science and research community.

“The benefits of Horizon Europe go beyond the direct funding opportunities; it also represents a long-standing and prestigious evolution of programmes, which unlocks opportunities for research collaboration and wider commercial, scientific and cultural benefits.

“We also agree that, notwithstanding the need for continuing financial contributions, Horizon Europe represents good value for money.”

According to the House of Lords, the benefits of Horizon Europe go beyond direct opportunities for funding — and includes wide commercial, cultural and scientific benefits as a result of unlocking wider opportunities for research collaboration.

The current delay in associating with the programme, the Committee said, is continuing to undermine potential funding opportunities, erode confidence among researchers and foster a chilling effect around EU–UK research collaborations.

They added: “UK association would also be beneficial to the EU, as is demonstrated by the overwhelming support for UK association in the EU science and research community.

“Overall, we endorse the clear message we received that UK association to Horizon Europe would be a ‘win–win’ for both parties. We note, and welcome, that this appears also to be the Government’s position.”

The Committee has suggested that the UK’s participation in the programme is presently being used as a pawn in negotiations around unrelated areas of the post-Brexit UK–EU relationship.

On October 26 last year, Lord David Frost told the committee that there “seems to be a problem” on the EU side regarding the finalisation of the UK’s accession to Horizon Europe.

Meanwhile, the relevant joint EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement forum — the Specialised Committee on Participation in Union Programmes — went for months without a meeting being scheduled, and only met for the first time for 45 minutes late last December.

During this meeting, the UK stressed “that participation would bring benefits for scientific research across both the UK and the EU”, the Committee noted.

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In response, the EU said: “the completion of EU procedures in the current political setting does not seem opportune as there are serious difficulties in the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.”

The Committee said it “urges the UK Government and European Commission to work together to unblock the current impasse as soon as possible, in the interests of both sides, and regardless of ongoing disputes in separate areas of the UK–EU relationship.”

“The apparent politicisation of mutually beneficial scientific cooperation is a deeply regrettable development.”

The European Affairs Committee has requested that the UK Foreign Secretary, the European Commissioner for Research and the Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy respond to its question by March 17, 2022.

Russell Group policy manager Jo Burton said: “Despite the agreement for the UK to join Horizon Europe as part of the Brexit deal over a year ago, association has still not been finalised, putting at risk all of the benefits being part of a major international collaboration brings for all of those involved.

“UK association to Horizon is a win-win for the UK and Europe, maximising the ability of our universities and businesses to lead projects, generate high-impact research and achieve a range of economic, health, environmental and social benefits.

“We hope to see association finalised as soon as possible and look forward to working with our European partners on a range of research projects over the course of Horizon Europe.”

Royal Society foriegn secretary Professor Sir Robin Grimes added: “Science depends on collaboration for the free flow of ideas and expertise.

“The Royal Society has been making the case to political leaders on both sides of the Channel, that delaying the UK’s association to Horizon Europe jeopardises the close ties between researchers. These multilateral relationships, developed over decades, have strengthened science, economies, and brought real benefits to lives right across Europe.

“It is good to see the Lords committee has recognised the politicisation of science is ‘highly unwelcome’ and lending its voice to the calls made by the UK academies, and our international partners, in urging a high level political intervention to resolve the impasse.

“Achieving the best deal for citizens across Europe means delivering on our commitments in the Trade & Cooperation Agreement and getting association done.”

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