UK rejoins the EU's €100B Horizon sci-tech funding program

Two and a half years after Brexit, some cheer for scientists based in Britain. We're... baaaaxit (sorry!)

UK scientists can once again pitch for chunks of the EU's £86 billion ($107 billion) Horizon program after the British government negotiated re-entry to the flagship fund following a Brexit-related hiatus.

The UK left the EU program for technical and scientific research funding at the beginning of 2021, following its formally negotiated departure from the world's richest trading bloc. The failure to secure membership of Horizon as part of the deal has been heavily criticized by the UK's leading scientists.

After a delay for the UK parliament's summer recess, prime minister Rishi Sunak announced Britain would "join" the programme.

"With a wealth of expertise and experience to bring to the global stage, we have delivered a deal that enables UK scientists to confidently take part in the world’s largest research collaboration programme – Horizon Europe," he said.

"We have worked with our EU partners to make sure that this is right deal for the UK, unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers," Sunak said.

The UK is also set to rejoin Copernicus, the European Earth Observation programme, which monitors the planet's atmosphere, oceans and climate. However, the UK has decided to exclude itself from EU's Euratom programme, which focuses on nuclear fusion, research and safety. It enjoys a budget of €1.38 billion ($1.49 billion) from 2021 to the end of 2025.

The British government said it wanted to pursue a domestic fusion energy strategy instead of associating Euratom, backing its alternative strategy with £650 million ($809 million) to 2027.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: "The EU and UK are key strategic partners and allies, and today's agreement proves that point. We will continue to be at the forefront of global science and research."

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It is estimated that the UK will put €2.6 billion ($2.8 billion) per year on average into the Horizon funding pot for its participation.

Parliament's Science, Innovation and Technology Committee chairman Greg Clark MP, said: "This is a shrewd agreement which allows UK science to win grants even beyond our contribution. Alongside a doubling of the science budget over the last decade to £20 billion a year, this is a golden opportunity for the UK to advance our status as a science superpower."

However, prominent figures in UK science were quick to point to the ground lost in the UK's two-and-a-half year absence from the Horizon program. Geneticist and science broadcaster Adam Rutherford said: "While this is good news, let's not forget that after several years, and countless hours of negotiation, we are now in a much worse position than we were pre-Brexit, and we've lost billions in funding and cred via this process."

Ocean physicist and broadcaster Helen Czerski said the deal was "very cheering news" but added: "It doesn't really make up for the stupidity of leaving in the first place, or the damage done to our research base when our contributions stopped, though." ®

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