Deal allows UK to rejoin EU's Horizon R&D funding scheme

EU Horizon R&D funding scheme
Julia Koblitz

After years of Brexit-related wrangling, the UK is poised to rejoin the EU's Horizon Europe programme which provides funding for scientific research.

The UK and EU have now reached a "political agreement" that means that UK-based scientists and research institutions will once again be able to apply for support from the €95 billion fund, starting today.

Last year, the EU imposed a funding block on UK projects amid an acrimonious dispute over the trade border in Northern Ireland.

The Brexit deal included associate membership of Horizon for the UK, but that status was thrown into jeopardy when the UK government threatened to rewrite the Northern Ireland Protocol, designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, which means goods entering Northern Ireland must continue to follow EU regulations and standards.

That dispute was settled by the agreement on the Windsor Framework in February, a new set of arrangements for the flow of trade across the NI border.

The UK has agreed to contribute €2.6 billion a year on average to the Horizon fund and the Copernicus Earth observation programme in a deal that the European Commission said is entirely in line with the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

It will also be able to join the governance of EU programmes, from which it has been excluded since Brexit officially took place in 2020.

In a statement, the Commission said the agreement had been reached after "in-depth discussions" and will permit UK researchers to access the programme from 1st January next year "on par with their counterparts in EU member states."

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) greeted the agreement with relief, describing it as a "huge win" for the scientific community after years of uncertainty.

"UK innovation and research depends on international collaborations, which are crucial for driving advancements in all areas of science, including the discovery and early development of new medicines and vaccines," said Janet Valentine, the trade organisation's head of innovation and research policy.

"The UK accession to Horizon enables the two sides to reinvigorate their longstanding partnership in R&D," she added.

The UK government said it had secured improved financial terms of association to Horizon Europe, "increasing the benefits to UK scientists, value for money for the UK taxpayer, and mitigating the impact that the EU's delays to our association will have on participation rates of researchers."

Cancer Research UK's chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said: "There will be relief throughout the research community that the uncertainty of the last two and a half years has come to an end."

She noted that nearly three-quarters of respondents to a CVRUK survey of cancer researchers cited funding from the EU as important for their work, showing how crucial Horizon Europe association is for the future of cancer research.

"It is essential that the European Commission, the UK government, and UK research funders work with urgency to rebuild the strong position the UK occupied in the Horizon programme, and get funds and global collaboration flowing again into our research institutions."

Photo by Julia Koblitz on Unsplash.