UK mulls next steps as Horizon deadlock goes on

A meeting on UK participation in European Union research programs ended with no progress, with the Westminster government signaling a shift towards domestic alternatives.

The meeting was sparked as the UK launched legal action against the EU over its exclusion from the Horizon Europe, Copernicus and Euratom programs promised to the country in the 2020 Brexit deal.

“At today’s meeting, the UK again called on the EU to honor its commitment to complete the UK’s association with EU programs after a 16-month delay. It is unfortunate that the EU continues to refuse this request,” the government said in a statement.

As part of the Brexit deal’s grievance procedures, the UK’s mid-August grievance will soon face arbitration if no settlement can be found.

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“The UK Government is now urgently considering the next steps. Our priority is to support the UK’s world-leading research and development sector and we have already outlined possible options to do so,” the government said in its statement. There was no reference to arbitration. An EU official said times higher education that “no further consultations on this subject have been agreed”.

In July, then-Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the UK’s interim measures “would provide stability and continuity of funding for UK researchers and businesses”. In early September, the Westminster Government again extended its funding guarantee for UK resident Horizon grant winners to cover EU funding calls ending on or before 31 December 2022.

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Launched in November 2021, the guarantee scheme is intended to be a stopgap until the European Commission approves full UK involvement, which it has been holding back over disputes over the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit deal.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Liz Truss discussed the Northern Ireland Protocol at a UN meeting in New York earlier this week, although their joint statement mentioned no progress.

There have long been fears that the roughly £2 billion earmarked for the UK’s contribution to Horizon could be vulnerable to government cost-cutting.

In mid-September, Conservative former University Secretary Lord Johnson of Marylebone said THE that a “skinny Plan B rather than a fat Horizon Europe” is likely among the options if government spending is “reprofiled”.

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“We are currently in the worst possible position of all, with a large amount of money committed to either Horizon or Plan B, but not being spent,” warned the architect of the domestic “Plan B” alternative to Horizon, Graeme Reid, Chair for Science and Research Research Policy at UCL and Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society.

Uncertainty for UK researchers will linger for now as Ms Truss’ first “mini-budget” announced on September 23 makes no mention of the Horizon money.

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