EU blocks UK scientists from Horizon Europe funding amid Brexit tensions

23 May 2022

Image: © Cavan/

The delay of the UK joining Horizon Europe is causing concern among scientists, while UK researchers have had to leave leading roles in EU projects.

The EU has blocked scientists in the UK from joining its €95bn Horizon Europe research programme due ongoing disputes about Northern Ireland after Brexit.

According to Politico, an official letter was sent to a UK politician which said that Brussels won’t let the UK be part of Horizon Europe while the issues surrounding post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland drag on.

EU ambassador to the UK João Vale de Almeida said it is “very regrettable” that British scientists would become “collateral damage” over the disputes, the Financial Times reported.

The issue stems from the UK’s recent plans to rewrite elements of the Northern Ireland protocol, which is part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement that protects the Good Friday Agreement.

Last week, VP of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič said that the EU would respond “with all measures at its disposal” if the UK goes ahead with a bill to disapply elements of the protocol.

Horizon Europe launched in Ireland and other EU nations in early 2021 and will run until 2027, directly following the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

With a budget of €95.5bn, the overarching goals of the programme are to strengthen science and technology in the EU, boost the region’s capacity and competitiveness in innovation, and deliver research projects that serve the EU’s priorities.

While the plan was that the UK would be an associate of Horizon Europe, there have been ongoing delays in formalising an agreement to enable UK-based scientists, researchers and businesses to access funding under the EU programme on equivalent terms those in EU countries.

Concerns among scientists

The delays have caused concerns among research groups, which have been pushing for open collaboration between UK and EU scientists. In a letter seen by the Financial Times, the Russell Group, which represents 24 UK universities, urged British prime minister Boris Johnson to break the deadlock.

Russell Group said on Twitter last week that the UK’s association with Horizon Europe would be a win for both sides “at a time when cooperation across Europe is more vital than ever”.

The stand-off between the UK and the EU has already been causing issues for UK scientists.

According to the Guardian, Cambridge University astrophysicist Dr Nicholas Walton had to leave his coordinating role in an upcoming European Space Agency project, as he was told UK scientists cannot hold leadership roles until the country’s Horizon Europe membership is ratified.

Other UK scientists are facing dilemmas over whether to move to the EU or hand over leadership of projects to an EU institution, the Guardian reported.

The European Commission faced pressure last November when a joint statement was issued by more than 1,000 universities, 56 academies of science and 33 rectors’ associations, urging it to finalise the UK’s association to Horizon Europe or risk “endangering current and future plans for collaboration”.

In December, the Royal Irish Academy also urged Ireland’s Government to help finalise the UK’s involvement with Horizon Europe, saying the ongoing delays are putting research partnerships in jeopardy.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic