Chair of science committee calls on UK government to speed up Horizon Europe talks

16 Mar 2023 | News

Spring budget includes funding for several science-related initiatives, but no mention of European research collaboration, and MPs and academics are increasingly anxious for UK association to the EU programme to get over the line

Greg Clark MP, chair of the science committee in the House of Commons. Photo: Number 10 / Flickr

Greg Clark MP, chair of the science committee in the House of Commons has called on the UK government to accelerate Horizon Europe negotiations and to clarify what will happen to £1.6 billion of funding earmarked for Horizon Europe contributions that were returned to the Treasury.

“I would urge the European Commission and the government to commence and conclude these discussions without delay, which must address what value remains accessible to the UK in the remaining years of the programme,” Clark said in a statement responding to the spring budget on Wednesday.

The EU blocked the UK from participating in its €95.5 billion research and innovation programme after London and Brussels started haggling over the status of Northern Ireland in the EU single market.

Last month, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen signed the Windsor framework agreement which would allow Northern Ireland to remain in the EU single market. The move prompted von der Leyen to say the deal allowed the EU and UK to start working “immediately” on the Horizon Europe association deal.

However, no concrete steps have been taken since, fuelling further disquiet among scientists and academics on both sides of the Channel who have been hoping for a swift end to the post-Brexit political impasse.

In February the UK treasury took back £1.6 billion that had been allocated for payments into Horizon Europe over the past two years.

In a letter to Clark, the newly appointed secretary of state for science Michelle Donelan said the EU had not made any proposals for updating the financial terms of a UK association agreement, and the UK government expects to pay a reduced fee for its participation in a programme given it has missed the boat over the past two years. “Any funding required for association in future years will be made available once there is clarity on UK association to EU programmes,” she said.

Clark blamed the EU for its “intransigence in blocking the UK’s association”, which resulted in the £1.6 billion budget loss. “Some of these funds risk no longer being available for UK scientific research, underlining the need to accelerate the negotiation," he said.

Also responding to science-related announcements in the budget, which included funding for a new supercomputer and a national strategy for quantum research, Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of leading research universities, also called for swift association to Horizon Europe, to complement the agenda set out in the budget.

“Collaboration is crucial […] so we hope that alongside these proposals the government will move swiftly on finalising the UK’s association to Horizon Europe, which will enable us to collaborate on an unrivalled scale, continue to attract the best talent, and signal our ambitions to lead the world in science,” said Bradshaw.

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