Get free UK politics and policy updates
We will send you a myFT Daily Digest Latest email summary UK politics & policy news every morning.
The UK’s senior leaders in science and industry have warned that delays in negotiating membership of the EU’s 95.5 billion euro science program Horizon are “absurd” ” and compromise the UK’s aspirations to become a scientific superpower.
Rejoining Horizon is expected to be one of the initial “victories” from prime minister Rishi Sunak’s breakthrough on trade deals in Northern Ireland last February, ending the post-Brexit diplomatic deadlock. between London and Brussels.
At that time Ursula von der Leyen forewarned The so-called Windsor framework agreement is “good news” for EU and UK scientists, and promises to work “immediately” to reach an agreement allowing the UK to participate.
But four months later, EU and UK officials said talks had stalled over the UK’s financial contribution to the scheme, sparking growing frustration among leading figures. leader in science, industry and academia.
Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse, head of the Francis Crick Institute in London, urged politicians to stop quibbling about relatively small sums and reach an agreement.
“It makes no sense for this to take so long. Every month of delay in these negotiations hurts science and hurts the country,” he said.
The UK has reached an agreement worth £2 billion a year to become an associate member of Horizon by 2020 as part of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, but the participation of The country was blocked for two years due to disagreements over Northern Ireland.
Stakeholders on both sides say negotiations have become bogged down over the UK’s financial contributions to the scheme after those two “missing years”, and about the calculation mechanism. “adjusted” payments if the UK receives more or less. than its annual contributions.
Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society, Britain’s senior science academy, said the delay was hurting the UK and urged both sides to reach an agreement before the long summer break in London. Europe begins.
“Researchers are leaving or not coming to the UK and British researchers are being excluded from important collaborative activities. That gets in the way of European research and that hurts everyone. With the business of politics coming to an end, the EU and UK governments need to address this now,” he said.
Chloe Smith, secretary of science and technology, told the FT earlier this month: “Negotiations are ongoing and they’re going constructively.” She added: “Our interest is in association with Horizon.”
However, a senior UK government insider has accused the Commission of turning Horizon into a “bargain card” in the Northern Ireland case, creating a two-year delay that has caused current disagreement now between the two sides. “We want a deal, but it has to be a fair deal,” the insider added.
EU Commission officials said they were unsure if Sunak really wanted to rejoin, which made negotiations difficult. One described the negotiations as “stalemate”, the second as “freezing”. A senior UK official said talks were ongoing, but acknowledged that closing the gap was “difficult”.
Academic bodies also called on both sides to compromise. “Time is valuable here. Joining Horizon is more than a ‘money in, money out’ equation. We need flexibility from both sides to reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” said Vivienne Stern, head of Universities UK, the specialized body for higher education.
European universities are also pushing for an agreement. Nearly 6,000 scholars have signed suggestion call for quick association. Arancha González, dean of the Paris School of International Relations (Sciences Po), said: “There are three major scientific blocs in the world. One is the US, the other is Asia, mainly China, and the other is Europe.
Industry groups, including the British Chambers of Commerce and MakeUK, the manufacturing body, also called on both sides to “redouble” efforts to reach an agreement. William Bain, head of trade policy at BCC said: “The business is clear – our participation in Horizon Europe is a win for the UK and a win for the EU.
Martin Smith, head of policy for the Wellcome Trust, the charity, said he was optimistic there was enough political momentum to strike a deal.
“Failure will affect Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen very badly: if they cannot make progress on a matter of mutual concern, it will not do them well,” he said.
The Foreign Office said it wanted the talks to be successful but added that the government would fall back to the domestic alternative, the £14.6bn ‘Pioneer’ programme, if talks failed. lose. “We stand ready to support our R&D sector in any situation,” the spokesperson said.
An EU Commission spokesman said it was working with the UK’s association with Horizon and had informed the UK it would not have to pay for the two years it missed.