The post-Brexit UK is re-joining the European Union’s science funding programme Horizon Europe under a “bespoke deal,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on Thursday.
From 2024, the UK will resume payment into the programme and become a “fully associated member for the remaining life of the programme to 2027,” the government said.
This means successful UK applicants of funds will get the money from Horizon Europe again instead of the UK government as they did during the post-Brexit transition period.
UK scientists will also be able to lead consortia in the next work programme of Horizon Europe projects after being excluded since 2021.
Under a new “automatic clawback” term, the UK will get compensation if its scientists “receive significantly less money” than what it pays.
The government said the new terms are “right for the UK and protect the taxpayer.”
The UK will also regain access to data from Copernicus, the EU’s Earth observation programme, with the ability to bid for contracts.
With regard to nuclear power, the UK has decided to pursue a domestic fusion energy strategy instead of associating to the EU’s Euratom programme, the government said, adding that the domestic strategy involves “close international collaboration, including with European partners, and a new, cutting-edge alternative programme, backed by up to £650 [million] to 2027.”
While the UK’s association with Horizon Europe was agreed upon in principle after Brexit, full association has been delayed because of the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol until the Windsor Framework was signed in February.
During the transition period, UK scientists could apply for Horizon Europe grants, but couldn’t sign grant agreements with the EU. Although the UK government has been underwriting the money under a guarantee programme, there has been fewer UK applications.
Under the new agreement, the UK will be a full member from 2024, and the UK government will continue to cover grants for successful applicants of the 2023 work programmes through its guarantee scheme.
The government said the deal is set to create and support “thousands of new jobs as part of the next generation of research talent.”
Science Secretary Michelle Donelan told LBC that the membership will cost £2 billion a year.
Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s executive vice-president, said the deal will ensure the EU and UK researchers and industry “mutually benefit from one another’s experience [and] from fruitful collaboration in EU scientific [and] space programmes.”
Research institutions have welcomed the deal.
Irene Tracey, vice chancellor at the University of Oxford, said it’s “terrific to see UK researchers back at the heart of the world’s largest collaborative research programme.”
In a joint statement published via the government’s press release, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society, said it’s a “great day for researchers in the UK and across Europe.”
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said the association is “overwhelmingly in the best interests of cancer patients and scientists.”
Writing on X, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that the deal was “what effective engagement with Europe looks like.”
Labour also the deal came as a “relief,” but blamed the Conservative government for its delay.
“Today’s announcement is a relief after years of Conservative prime ministers putting party above country,” shadow secretary of state for science, innovation and technology Peter Kyle said.
“However, this announcement is too late for many researchers, businesses, and academics who have already lost out on billions of funding and taken their jobs and expertise elsewhere,” he said, adding that Labour’s industrial strategy will support sectors like life sciences and unlock the potential of the UK’s scientific community.
Mr. Sunak defended the government’s record, telling broadcasters that he believes “what the science and research community can see from this government is that we back them wholeheartedly.”