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Brits negotiating draft deal to rejoin EU's $100B blockbuster science programme

Prime minister set to look over promises for potential pact at the weekend

UK government is negotiating a draft deal to rejoin the EU's €95.5 billion (c $103 billion) Horizon research funding program, following years of uncertainty resulting from the Brexit vote.

According to reports, officials from the UK and the world's richest trading bloc have roughed out an agreement which is set to be presented to British prime minister Rishi Sunak at the weekend. Next Tuesday he is due to meet Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, when the agreement could potentially be finalized.

A government spokesperson said the deal: "Talks are ongoing and therefore, we have not yet agreed a deal."

One inside official speaking to news outlet Politico said the UK could rejoin Horizon Europe and the Copernicus Earth observation program, but would be set to be excluded from nuclear energy R&D program Euratom.

UK scientists have long complained that losing Horizon membership was an unintended, but devastating, effect of Brexit and one which cast doubt over the island nation's plans to become a global science superpower. In February, science minister Michelle Donelan said the UK was ready to go it alone if negotiations to form an associated membership with Horizon failed.

"If we cannot associate, we are more than ready to go it alone with our own global-facing alternative, working with science powerhouses such as the US, Switzerland and Japan to deliver international science collaborations," she wrote in the Telegraph.

In November last year, the government put up £484 million ($618 million) as a stop-gap measure to provide "targeted support for staff retention and local talent strategies at eligible universities and research organizations" while negotiations over Horizon continued.

The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016. It left the EU in January 2020 with a transition period extending day-to-day arrangements until the end of the year.

The UK had always planned to establish associated membership with the Horizon programme but its efforts were scuppered by sticking points in other areas of the negotiations.

In February 2022, UK minister for science and research George Freeman told MPs EU funding for research was in limbo while the nation continued to negotiate over Northern Ireland's trading arrangement and fishing rights.

Later in the year, a report from the House of Lords (the UK's second chamber) slammed its ambitions to become a sci-tech "superpower" by 2030. Rows over EU funding and concern over UK-based scientists' career prospects affected the country's standing in the field, the Lords Science and Technology Committee said. ®

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