Lord Frost gives update on UK’s participation in Horizon Europe
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The Foreign Secretary took over the reins as the UK’s Brexit negotiator following Lord David Frost’s resignation on the weekend. She will speak with chief EU negotiator Maros Sefčovic today in a bid to salvage a deal after threats to rip up the Northern Ireland protocol may put the future of British science in jeopardy. Lord Frost had failed to make progress with the EU on the Northern Ireland protocol or the fishing licenses dispute, issues that led to the EU decision to suspend Britain from Horizon Europe.
Horizon Europe is the bloc’s key research and innovation project which involves an £80billion pool of funding that countries, even non-EU members, can access.
Britain was planning to contribute £15billion in total to the project and £7billion annually so that scientists could access funds.
But after the Brexit back-and-forth, the UK was told it could not join until the issues were resolved.
Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, has warned that EU member states have “limited” appetite to make agreements with the UK.
Ms Johansson said: “We have quite some concerns with the implementation of the TCA [Trade and Cooperation Agreement] and the protocol on Northern Ireland right now, so I should guess that the appetite from member states to go into negotiations for a new agreement … is limited.”
Tensions were already high when Lord Frost was at the wheel, with the former negotiator even threatening to trigger Article 16 as he believed the EU was violating the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).
In fact, triggering the clause would permanently exclude Britain from the project.
While Mr Sefcovic warned there would be “serious consequences” as a result of this, Lord Frost was adamant that Britain should be allowed to take part in Horizon Europe as it was part of the Brexit deal.
He told the House of Lords last month: “We agreed we would participate in this in the TCA and we agreed to pay a contribution of £15billion over seven years.
“The TCA is clear, the UK shall participate and the relevant protocol shall be adopted, that is an obligation.
“If it became clear that the EU will not deliver that obligation – and it has not done so far – we will regard them as in breach of Article 710 of the TCA.”
But the EU’s refusal to budge proved too much for Lord Frost, and the prolonged back-and-forth saw neither side make compromises.
Ms Truss has said she wants to strike up a “comprehensive solution” to the Northern Ireland protocol, the agreement which requires post-Brexit checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
But the longer this takes, the more harm this is causing for British science.
Earlier this month, scores of health companies signed the European Health Stakeholder Group’s letter to EU demanding that the UK be allowed to re-join Horizon Europe as soon as possible.
The letter read: “We have all reaped the mutual health benefits of these collaborations.
“Together, we have significantly advanced health care across Europe, saving and improving citizens’ lives.
“Going forward, we must continue to work together in order to meet the challenges of our swiftly changing world.
“We stand with our colleagues in the EU’s research and innovation community in urging the European Commission to formalise the UK’s association to Horizon Europe without further delay.”
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And they were not the only group in the science community that is outrage with the EU for refusing Britain access to Horizon Europe.
In November, 25 groups representing Europe’s academic and research sector wrote to the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in a furious letter.
It read: “We are rapidly approaching a crunch point. With the first Horizon Europe grant agreements approaching and new calls soon to be launched, UK association must be finalised without further delay.”
Brexit talks have now been brought forward following Lord Frost’s resignation, which were not scheduled to happen until after Christmas.
The science community will have their fingers crossed for Ms Truss to make swifter progress than her predecessor managed.
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