UK on the brink of rejoining EU Horizon programme

6 Jul 2023

Rishi Sunak leaving 10 Downing Street. Image: Rory Arnold (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In a big boost for scientific research and innovation on the European continent, Rishi Sunak is expected to announce a Horizon deal with EU officials next week.

After years of failed negotiations in the aftermath of Brexit, the UK is finally expected to rejoin the nearly €100bn EU Horizon science research funding programme as soon as next Tuesday (11 July), multiple reports have confirmed.

Diplomatic sources have told media outlets that a deal has been reached on the specifics of the UK’s rekindled membership and that it is awaiting approval from prime minister Rishi Sunak. If he agrees, the deal is expected to be announced on Tuesday following talks with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Horizon is the largest funding instrument for research and innovation in Europe. The seven-year initiative runs from 2021-2027 and has a budget of €95.5bn to fund scientific research across EU member states. The UK departed from Horizon following Brexit in 2020.

According to officials speaking to Politico, the UK will rejoin Horizon and the Copernicus Earth observation programme, but not the Euratom’s nuclear energy R&D scheme, which has been described by stakeholders in the UK as “poor value for money”.

While negotiations for the UK to rejoin Horizon kicked off soon after Brexit, they have not been successful so far because of the deteriorating relationship between London and Brussels amid the Northern Ireland protocol controversy – until the Windsor Framework was adopted in April.

Ireland was one of the countries majorly hit by the UK’s departure from Horizon because of significant research ties between the two countries. Some research bodies in Ireland have even urged the Government to speed up and help finalise the UK’s involvement with Horizon.

“Research and education represent an essential, highly productive and apolitical source of collaboration between Ireland, Northern Ireland, Britain and mainland Europe for the benefit of all,” Dr Mary Canning, former president of the Royal Irish Academy, said at the time.

There were even plans for the UK to institute its own version of Horizon as an alternative to joining the EU programme, but they were later dropped in favour of European integration.

Under the latest agreement, EU officials have previously confirmed that the UK will not have to pay for the years 2021 and 2022 as it was not an associate member of Horizon during that period.

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Rishi Sunak leaving 10 Downing Street. Image: Rory Arnold (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic