Lord Frost discusses the deadline for invoking Article 16
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A leaked government document reportedly showed that Britain is seriously considering pulling out of Horizon Europe, Copernicus and Euratom. These projects – that the UK was planning to pump around £15billion into –– are the EU’s science research, development, satellite and nuclear programmes. The UK agreed to remain part of when it signed the Brexit trade deal last year.
The document reportedly showed ministers believe the delay to Britain’s access was a deliberate tactic by Brussels to gain leverage over the UK in Brexit talks.
It also comes as tension over the Northern Ireland Protocol have soared.
Last week, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic warned that triggering Article 16 “would have serious consequences”.
Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol sets out the process for taking unilateral “safeguard” measures if either the EU or UK decides that the deal will cause serious practical problems or “diversion of trade”.
The UK has slammed the EU for not making enough concessions as the Brexit back-and-forth persists.
Contentious issues include the amount of customs checks, red tape around medicines and the movement of pets between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
A Government source said: “We’ve always said that we’ll use Article 16 if solutions can’t be found. But people need to understand that we’re taking these talks seriously and we mean it when we say that we want a negotiated outcome.”
Ministers are believed to be drawing up measures to stop retaliatory options open to the European Commission if Britain does trigger Article 16 as tensions continue to boil.
And Brexit Minister Lord Frost and Business secretary Kawsi Kwarteng are now working on a “Discovery Fund” as a new alternative to science projects Brussels stalled Britain from entering over the disputes.
The UK was going to contribute £2.1billion annually to the Horizon Europe programme so British scientists and researchers could have access to an array of European science projects and a large pool of funding.
ut the EU had told Britain its entry to the £80billion project was banned until the Northern Ireland Protocol issue was resolved.
A senior government source said: “Blocking the UK from joining Horizon is in no one’s interest – we can’t participate and they lose out our financial contribution.
“We’re having to look at alternatives in case the EU does block our access, which would be a breach of what we agreed less than a year ago.”
The UK also secured access to the Copernicus Earth observation programme, a crucial advancement for the UK space sector, and another deal on continued involvement in the Euratom nuclear research programme was also in the works.
And Britain’s entry to all these developments had been stalled, research and funding opportunities were slipping away from the UK.
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But the Discovery Fund drafted up by Lord Frost and Mr Kwarteng could rival the Horizon Europe project.
Reportedly, there are plans for a target date of early 2022 and talks about domestic schemes that would be funded from the money which otherwise would have been involved in the EU programmes.
The leaked document also revealed that ministers want work to start even though the “programme benefits cannot be fully replicated in domestic alternatives”.
It said that withdrawing from the programmes “would impact the ambition to become a science superpower”.
This was a Brexit promise made by Boris Johnson, who had originally pledge to boost research and development (R&D) spending annually to £22billion a year by 2024/25.
There was a delay to this target announced in the budget by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who said this target will not be met until 2026/27.
But the Chancellor did announce that the UK will double the proportion of GDP spent on R&D from 0.7 percent to 2.4 percent.
As restoring Britain’s position as a leader in world science was an important part of Mr Johnson’s vision for a “Global Britain”, the alarm was raised when fears Britain’s involvement in EU science programmes were to be used as leverage for the Brexit talks.
Now, the leaked document says that planning for the discovery fund should begin to start looking for options for long-term investment to replace the projects.
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