The EU has confirmed it will block the UK’s participation in the EU’s £95bn Horizon Europe programme as part of the escalating row over the Northern Ireland protocol.
The UK’s association with Horizon Europe was the source of debate in the run up to the Brexit deal and is still being defined following the agreement, with UK businesses still allowed to apply for research funding in the interim.
The UK and EU agreed to UK membership as part of its post-Brexit trade deal, but UK membership has since been delayed as relations between the UK and EU have remained frosty over the Northern Ireland protocol, which defines trade terms between Ireland and the UK.
Now the UK is preparing legislation to scrap elements of the protocol, the EU has confessed it is holding back funding and will now obstruct UK membership until the Northern Ireland protocol dispute is resolved.
Alarm bells ringing
The news has sounded the alarm among UK research professionals.
Njy Rios, Director of R&D Incentives at Ayming UK, a consultancy specialising in innovation funding, told City A.M. today that “the Government needs to tread carefully here. UK research and science will suffer if British businesses and academics are excluded from Horizon Europe.”
She warned that “it would put a huge spanner in the works for the UK’s mission to become a ‘science superpower’. It will have an immediate impact on the funding of UK research & development and the UK stands to lose an estimated £14bn in funding across the seven-year lifecycle.”
Rios added that “the UK may downplay the impact by promising to fill the gaps in funding, but the programme is about more than just money. European funding is all about participating in cutting edge R&D, by collaborating with multi-national partners and experts.”
“Cross-border collaboration with other countries is vital for UK science, technology and innovation.”Njy Rios, Director of R&D Incentives at Ayming UK
The UK Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is taking steps to replace the funding should the EU refuse UK access in drawing up plans for a new £6bn a new science fund.
Earlier in the week, Kwarteng wrote a letter to British scientists, insisting the dispute on Northern Ireland was an “entirely separate issue” to the UK’s participation in Horizon.
Reacting to the news, the EU ambassador to the UK, João Vale de Almeida, described UK science as “collateral damage” in the dispute.
However, Rios sees the larger implications of the fallout, highlighting the need for large scale collaboration to address problems like climate change.
“More importantly though, they are also vital to helping us solve some of the biggest challenges we face as a species, whether it’s biodiversity loss, disease prevention or diversifying away from oil. R&D increasingly doesn’t happen in isolation, and many of the most critical and complex R&D projects require external expertise or resources,” she said.
“The multi-national projects allow us to actively share ideas to open up new sectors and markets. They are a proven and efficient way to support international research and exclusion from them can only be seen as a blow to the UK.”
Gareth Williams, a partner at global intellectual property firm Marks & Clerk, added that: “All sides in this dispute recognise that UK participation in Horizon would be a win-win situation for everyone.”
Wiliams told City A.M. that “the slow pace of formal association to the Horizon agreement has already had chilling effects on innovation, as observed by the House of Lords European Affairs Committee.”
“Scientific research and innovation is truly a cross-border process, and the UK’s exclusion from the Horizon programme would be unfortunate.”Gareth Williams, partner at Marks & Clerk
“Scientific research is a huge driver of patent filing trends, as shown by the patent portfolios of leading universities worldwide; and the UK tech transfer community has particular skill in leveraging such patents to achieve commercially useful results and translate research into products,” he noted.
“It would be disappointing to see UK institutions falling behind in patent filings and less able to share their skill and expertise to the benefit of all parties,” Williams concluded.