The UK has been told it won’t have to pay for the two years it had been out of the EU’s Horizon research programme — removing a big barrier to rejoining the €95.5bn scheme.
Britain had been locked out of Horizon because of a post-Brexit dispute over trade in Northern Ireland. The recent Windsor Framework deal had opened the door to reentry, but talks have stalled over the financial terms.
The British government argues that its contributions to the seven-year innovation scheme should be cut, because its late entry has reduced the potential returns.
A key concern involved the payments for 2021 and 2022, when the UK was blocked from Horizon. Officials were reportedly concerned that Britain would still have to pay for those two years. According to the European Commission, that will not be the case.
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“We are not being unreasonable. We are not asking them to pay for the years they were not associated,” an EU official told the Guardian.
“We are ready to work on it very quickly. But there is still that doubt about the willingness of the UK to take part.”
More at stake than money
Despite the EU’s officials, there may be further roadblocks ahead. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is said to be “sceptical” about Horizon’s value. The British government has also unveiled a backup R&D funding scheme, which will be activated if negotiations to rejoin the EU programme fall apart.
However, among UK scientists and technologists, support for rejoining Horizon is widespread. In addition to €95.5bn funding pot, they point to the benefits of international collaboration, common rules, and established research cycles.
“The government must also remember there is more at stake here than money,” Tony McBride, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the Institute of Physics, said last week.
“Should it be needed, any alternative to Horizon must also make up for the loss of the established networks, partnerships, and infrastructure the UK has benefitted from over many, many years, as well as for the disruption and uncertainty caused by these years of delay.”
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