UK could rejoin Horizon scheme ‘this week’

Rishi Sunak hints that an agreement on the European Union’s research scheme is close as media reports claim a deal will be announced in coming days

September 6, 2023
European Commission in Brussels
Source: iStock

The UK is on the verge of rejoining the Horizon research programme, according to media reports which claim Rishi Sunak has approved a deal for British membership of the European Union’s flagship scheme.

According to Bloomberg News, the UK prime minister has given the go-ahead for officials to strike an agreement that will see the UK associate to the €95 billion (£82 billion) scheme.

The deal is expected to be announced this week, Bloomberg News has claimed.

Mr Sunak had been expected to announce the UK’s return to Horizon in July after Politico reported that a draft deal had been agreed between officials in Whitehall and Brussels over the cost of Britain’s contributions to the scheme. However, it was later confirmed that the decision would not be taken before the summer and would likely occur in September.

The delay has been criticised by researchers and university leaders who said it has created unnecessary uncertainty about the UK’s participation in Horizon, jeopardising its long-established partnerships with European universities and research institutes.

The UK has been excluded from Horizon for two years following Brexit after the EU blocked its association following efforts by Boris Johnson to rewrite trade arrangements on the Northern Irish border.

That obstacle was resolved in February when Mr Sunak and the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed the Windsor Framework on Irish cross-border issues.

However, there were further delays concerning Britain’s annual payments to the scheme amid concerns that its absence from Horizon had made it much harder for UK-based researchers to win leading roles in cross-European projects, and therefore substantial amounts of funding.

According to Bloomberg News, neither the UK’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology nor the European Commission responded to requests for comment.

However, Mr Sunak hinted in Prime Minister’s Questions on 6 September that a deal was near, stating: “We’ve been extensively involved in discussions and I hope to be able to conclude those successfully.”

“Our priority and preference is to associate to Horizon but we do want to make sure that that is on terms that are right both for the British taxpayer and for British science and research,” Mr Sunak added.

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