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Horizon: UK rejoins EU science research scheme

Horizon Science

The government has announced that the United Kingdom is set to rejoin the EU’s leading science research scheme, Horizon. The country hasn’t been part of the scheme since officially leaving the EU in 2020, despite originally agreeing upon an associate membership.

However, due to the disagreements around the Northern Ireland Protocol, the UK were excluded from the scheme which has resulted in UK-based scientists missing out on key funding and partnerships with European counterparts.

The scheme is said to be worth around €95.5bn and is a collaboration between leading European scientific institutions and companies. Members of Horizon are entitled to allocated funding to undertake key research projects which will now once again be available to scientists in the United Kingdom.

Horizon and Copernicus

Horizon isn’t the only EU scheme that the UK have rejoined today with news also coming through that they are once again a part of Copernicus, the EU’s Earth observation programme. However, the government have confirmed that they won’t be rejoining Euratom R&D, the union’s nuclear research alliance.

Speaking about the decision to rejoin both Horizon and Copernicus, Rishi Sunak said:

“With a wealth of expertise and experience to bring to the global stage, we have delivered a deal that enables UK scientists to confidently take part in the world’s largest research collaboration programme.

“We have worked with our EU partners to make sure that this is the right deal for the UK, unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers.”

In a statement published online, the European Commission stated that the UK will now “contribute almost €2.6 billion per year on average for its participation to both Horizon Europe and the Copernicus component of the Space programme.” President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, added:

“The EU and UK are key strategic partners and allies, and today’s agreement proves that point. We will continue to be at the forefront of global science and research.”

A long time coming

Upon leaving the European Union back in 2020, the UK had hoped to remain in the Horizon Scheme. The fact that negotiations have taken three years, largely due to the Northern Ireland protocol, has been a huge detriment to scientists in the country.

Back in February when the Windsor Framework was agreed between Brussels and London to draw a line under the Northern Ireland issues, the door was once again open for the UK to rejoin Horizon. It has since taken a further six months of financial negotiations but the agreement has now been finalised.

The biggest winners in the deal are UK-based scientists. Back when the UK was part of the EU, Scientists in the UK were frequently awarded large grants via Horizon to undertake groundbreaking research, however, over the past three years this hasn’t been possible.

This has led to some EU nationals, who were previously based in the UK, taking their work elsewhere while British scientists were forced to step down from roles relating to Horizon-funded projects. The hope now is that the UK can once again become a superpower in the European science sector.

Sue Ferns, a key figure at Prospect –  a union which represents research workers, said:

“The UK rejoining Horizon is welcome but long overdue and we are now playing catch-up as we try to make up for lost time. Ministers now need to guarantee sustained investment across the sector – scientific expertise is critical to meeting the generational challenges we are facing.”

Meanwhile, Professor Paul Stewart, who works for the Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

“After a hiatus, the scientific community is celebrating the tremendous news that we are once more part of the EU’s flagship funding programme. Health research is an international endeavour, it relies on supporting the best ideas, but also on creating cross-border networks which is good news for the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

“Association sends a very strong message that the UK is open for business and remains a prime destination to work on health research and innovation to improve lives.”

Final thought

The news that UK-based scientists can immediately start applying for Horizon-funded projects again is very much welcome.

The agreement will provide UK-based scientists with access to funding and partnerships that were previously unavailable, enabling them to conduct ground-breaking research and maintain the UK’s position as a leading scientific power.

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