Brexit boom! EU outsmarted as UK to strike deal with Sweden and defy £80bn snub

Lord Frost gives update on UK’s participation in Horizon Europe

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Science Minister George Freeman announced today that he met his Swedish counterpart Anna Ekstrom to discuss a UK and Sweden science partnership. Mr Freeman pinpointed key areas where the two powerhouses have already developed “long and deep scientific ties”. The Science Minister tweeted: “Sweden and the UK have long and deep scientific ties across a range of vital areas of research.”

Mr Freeman said these include life science, particle physics, clean tech, aerospace and satellite launch.

But this is not the only science powerhouse that the UK has been cosying up with.

Back in February, Mr Freeman also visited to explore a strengthened Swiss-UK partnership.

Mr Freeman wrote on Twitter ahead of his visit: “To Switzerland this evening for a two-day trip to explore a UK/Swiss science and research collaboration.

“The UK and Switzerland are science powerhouses with huge, shared research interests.

“Between us, we have nine out of 10 of the top Universities in Europe.”

Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation Guy Paremlin told that his meeting with Mr Freeman was an “excellent opportunity” to strike up a closer relationship between the two nations.

“It was an excellent opportunity to discuss various possibilities for intensifying cooperation in research and innovation and in this context, we agreed to work towards a Memorandum of Understanding as part of this strengthening process.”

This comes after Britain was banned from the EU’s flagship research and innovation programme, despite the UK’s involvement being a feature of the Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

The UK was supposed to contribute £15billion over a seven-year period towards Horizon Europe so it could access the bloc’s £80billion funding pot.

But EU negotiators told Britain it could not gain associated member status until the Northern Ireland Protocol dispute with the bloc is resolved.

Switzerland has also been blocked from joining due to a political feud.

As relations with the EU continue to soar, with Foreign Secretary threatening to rip up the Protocol in recent weeks, the UK’s opportunity to participate could be on the brink.

Now, British scientists promised grants through Horizon Europe risk having their funding cut.

In some cases, the bloc has threatened to pull the plug on grants unless UK researchers move to an associated country.

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But Mr Freeman appears to be going through with a “Plan B” to swerve the impacts.

The Science Minister tweeted in another post: “14 months ago in the EU Withdrawal Agreement, we negotiated to join the Horizon Research Programme.

“If our Association continues to be blocked, we cannot allow UK science to suffer through EU politics.

“So, I am developing a £6billion Global Britain Science Plan.”

While he has suggested that this could involve striking deals with five eyes partners like Australia and the US, it also appears that not being a part of Horizon Europe may in fact not limit the UK’s opportunities to strike deals with EU countries after all.

A key argument for Horizon Europe is that it facilitates the collaboration of EU and UK researchers on key research projects, something British scientists feared would be at risk if the UK was permanently banned.

But Mr Freeman could be signalling to the research community that Britain’s exclusion from the EU programme might not be such a problem.

However, the science minister has repeatedly put forward that participation in Horizon Europe is the preferred option.

And UK researchers have warned that the delay is causing significant harm and uncertainty to British science.

Russell Group policy manager Jo Burton said: “Despite the agreement for the UK to join Horizon Europe as part of the Brexit deal over a year ago, association has still not been finalised, putting at risk all of the benefits being part of a major international collaboration brings for all of those involved.”

Royal Society foreign secretary Professor Sir Robin Grimes said: “Science depends on collaboration for the free flow of ideas and expertise.”

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