UK throws a lifeline to scientists still blocked from EU scheme

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

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The Government has just unveiled a major boost for the UK-based scientists who currently face the risk of losing their grants over a Brexit dispute. The country was set to take part in Horizon Europe as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement negotiated in 2020 after Brexit. But this £80billion science programme that would have let UK researchers access prestigious EU grants and collaborate with European scientists on a range of projects, has not yet come to fruition, due to disagreements over the post Brexit deal. As a result, many scientists and researchers based in UK universities have had their Horizon grants withheld by the European Union.  

To support those scientists, the Government has today announced an extension to the support provided to UK Horizon Europe applicants, originally launched in November 2021.

This extension will ensure that eligible, successful UK applicants will continue to be guaranteed funding, supporting them to continue their important work in research and innovation.

The guarantee, which covers all Horizon Europe calls that close on or before 31st March 2023, will offer successful Horizon applicants the full value of their funding at their UK host institution for the lifetime of their grant.

Earlier this year, the European Research Council (ERC), which is the bloc’s main research funding agency, issued an ultimatum to the successful UK-based applicants- move to the EU, or a Horizon-associated country, by June 29 or else be replaced by another applicant.

Speaking to at the time, a spokesperson for the ERC said: “The preparation of 115 ERC grants offered to UK-based researchers will be terminated now that the June 29 deadline has passed.

“The grants of 19 UK-based researchers will be moved to a host institution in the EU or Associated Countries following the researchers’ decisions to exercise their right to portability. 12 cases have yet to be resolved.”

Now through this funding, the Government noted that successful awardees would not need to leave the UK, providing reassurance for future collaborations, and support UK researchers whether association with Horizon is confirmed, or otherwise.

This comes after UK Science Minister George Freeman has announced that the UK will launch a global research fund to deepen scientific collaboration between international research partners.

The new International Science Partnerships Fund has been handed an initial £119million in support of UK researchers collaborating with scientists in Japan and around the world.

Announced during a visit to Japan last week, this fund brings Britain closer to enacting its “Plan B”, after the country was blocked by EU from the £80billion flagship research programme.

In a speech, Mr Freeman outlined the ambition to better harness UK science for long term global security and sustainability, by tackling the most pressing global challenges of climate change, sustainable agricultural development, biosecurity and pandemic prevention.

In a statement, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy said: “The Government continues to push for Association to EU programmes, but time is running out.

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“The Government’s priority is to support the UK’s research and development sector during the ongoing period of uncertainty, and to ensure strong international collaboration opportunities for UK research.”

While the Government has continued to push for its reentry into the programme, it is also looking to secure a backup plan, particularly by increasing collaboration with non EU countries like Australia, Switzerland, and now Japan.

BEIS added that the Government’s top priority was to invest in the “UK’s world-leading R&D sector and facilitate their collaborations with international counterparts.

“It is disappointing that while the Government continues to focus on strengthening the UK’s international links and collaborations globally, the EU’s persistent delays to the UK’s association to Horizon is damaging collaboration with European partners.”

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