Frost’s departure offers hope of thaw in Horizon Europe impasse

But experts warn there is little hope of progress while relations remain in ‘freezer’

January 3, 2022

It is “unimaginable” that the UK will be able to associate to Horizon Europe while relations with Brussels remain “in the freezer”, but the resignation of Lord Frost as the country’s Brexit envoy may offer hopes of a thaw, experts said.

Times Higher Education understands that European Union officials confirmed that delays in signing off British participation in the €95.5 billion (£80.4 billion) research framework were due to wider political difficulties, at the first meeting on UK access to the bloc’s programmes held since the two sides struck a trade deal in December 2020.

European research commissioner Mariya Gabriel had previously implied that disagreement over the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland protocol was blocking association.

Georg Riekeles, associate director at the European Policy Centre thinktank and a former adviser to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the UK had “put good, cooperative, neighbourly relations into the freezer”. “It’s close to unimaginable that any other area of cooperation moves forward,” he said.

But Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform thinktank, said the recent resignation of Lord Frost as the Cabinet minister responsible for negotiating with Brussels could help mend relations.

“With David Frost’s departure, there’s at least a chance of a bit of a reset in the EU-UK relationship, because people in Brussels reckoned so long as he was there they couldn’t have a much better relationship,” Mr Grant said.

He argued that while foreign secretary Liz Truss – the UK’s new EU relations lead – would “play tough to the gallery initially”, she would “try to get a deal fairly soon” on the Northern Ireland protocol. He said the UK would likely want to seal a deal at least a month before elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly in early May, to avoid pre-election restrictions.

“Even before David Frost resigned there were signs of the British softening their position by saying that they didn’t insist that the European Court of Justice be taken out of the equation altogether in the protocol,” Mr Grant said. “If I’m right that the British want to reach a deal with Northern Ireland, that holds up hope for Horizon.”

However, Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said, “We don’t feel on the UK side that time is on our side,” referring to the potential reallocation of UK funding earmarked for Horizon. “If we’re being held up because there is a wider disagreement about things that have nothing to do with research, who knows how long that might go on?

“The consensus is we want association if we can get it. But when you start to talk to people about what would happen if we’re still in this position in the spring, in the summer, you get a range of answers.”


Print headline: Warming up: Frost’s departure offers hope of thaw in Horizon Europe impasse

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