Officials in London and Brussels have confirmed that the UK has reached an agreement to join the EU’s Horizon Research Programme. This move was welcomed by both scientists and businesses.
Rishi Sunak is expected to confirm, on Thursday, that the UK will finally join as an associate member of the €95,5bn Horizon program, putting an end to months of tension in negotiations.
Horizon is the largest multilateral programme of research in the world, bringing together scientists and companies from over 40 countries to explore areas such as climate change, cancer and artificial intelligent.
Sunak personally oversaw the details of this deal after telling his aides that he wasn’t sure if Horizon was worth the money for the UK. The agreement will deepen the post-Brexit relationship between Britain and EU.
Sunak, Sunak’s CEO, told the MPs that “our priority and preference” was to be associated with Horizon. We want to ensure that the terms are fair for both British science and British taxpayers.
According to a person who was briefed about the agreement, the Horizon deal includes the UK joining Copernicus, EU’s Earth-observation space program.
Sunak’s supporters said that the agreement was based on improved relations between London, and Brussels after an agreement in February which ended a bitter dispute over post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.
One person said, “This is part [of] that reset.” Downing Street declined comment.
As part of the 2020 Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the UK had negotiated associate membership in the Horizon Programme. However, it was not allowed to take up the offer due to the long-running dispute over Northern Ireland’s trading rules.
Sarah Main, Executive Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (a scientific representative group), welcomed the prospect of an agreement.
She said: “If confirmed, it will bring joy to UK scientists, and lasting value to the UK economy, and people’s well-being and prosperity.”
William Bain is the head of the British Chambers of Commerce’s trade policy. He said that the business lobby group told ministers joining Horizon would increase investment and improve international collaborations in science, higher education, and research.
He added that if the associate membership agreement for the UK was confirmed, it would provide the much-needed assurance and launch new research opportunities in key strength areas for the UK economy such as the life sciences.
The optimism earlier this year, that Britain and EU would quickly reach an agreement on Horizon was shattered by disputes over the UK’s financial contributions to programme.
The negotiations have been centered on the “correction mechanisms”, which determine what happens when the UK gets less value out of the programme than the UK pays for.
As an EU member, the UK received more money than it paid to Horizon because of the winning abilities of its universities. However, as an associate membership, this is not possible.
Martin Smith, director of policy at Wellcome Trust (the charitable foundation), said that it was important to collaborate in a scientific manner.
A Horizon Europe agreement will allow the UK to reclaim its rightful place as a global player in the quest to address the biggest scientific challenges of today.
Academics in the EU have also welcomed this move. It is great news for researchers from both sides of Channel, who can now combine their efforts in a time where research is crucial to Europe’s competitiveness,” said Arancha González, dean of Paris School of International Affairs.