Lord Frost gives update on UK’s participation in Horizon Europe
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The EU told Britain it cannot gain associated member status for Horizon Europe until it resolves its dispute with the bloc over the Northern Ireland Protocol. This is despite the UK’s involvement being a feature of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). It was planned that the UK would contribute £15billion over seven years so British researchers could access EU grants and collaborate with European partners.
Now, Universities UK is pleading with European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic to urgently resolve the row to rescue the UK’s access to the programme.
The group wrote in the letter that the delay is being “keenly felt” by both the EU and UK with the situation “deteriorating every day that the uncertainty drags on”.
The letter added: “Failure to secure UK association to Horizon Europe would be a lose-lose for health, wealth and wellbeing and would do a disservice to future generations in Europe and beyond.”
Universities also warned that the situation is “close to the precipice”.
The letter requests a meeting between Mr Sefcovic and UK vice-chancellors.
But this comes as negotiations with the EU continue to sour, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss threatening to tear up the Protocol in recent weeks.
Following a phone call between Ms Truss and her EU counterpart in May, Mr Sefcovic warned that scrapping the protocol would be “unacceptable”.
He said in a statement: “It continues to be of serious concern that the UK government intends to embark on the path of unilateral action.”
Mr Sefocivc added: “We have made clear that there is still potential to be explored in our proposals. We are still awaiting the response from the UK side.”
But the back-and-forth is continuing to spark fears for British researchers.
Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group has warned that Horizon Europe participation is very close from permanently being “snatched away”.
He warned: “It increasingly feels as if we are right on the brink, with association to be snatched away before the summer.
“The fact that Horizon Europe seems to have become tied up in wider political debates is a matter of regret, but it doesn’t have to be this way.”
He added: “We all know there is a point at which the UK can no longer hold on and alternative arrangements will need to be put in place.
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“I can tell you today that the window for association is closing, and closing fast.”
But while much of the science community will be hoping the negotiators can strike a deal, Science Minister George Freeman has come up with a backup plan in case Britain is permanently excluded.
It looks like it will involve teaming up with science and innovation powerhouses like our Five Eyes (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US) partners, as well as countries like Japan.
The Science Minister has also been meeting counterparts in Switzerland, Sweden and Israel to explore striking partnerships with these powerhouses.
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