After months of negotiations, the UK is rejoining Horizon, the EU’s €95.5bn flagship research and innovation programme, prime minister Rishi Sunak announced Thursday.
Although the country’s participation in the programme was part of the Brexit deal, its membership had been blocked for three years following Brussels’ and London’s feud over the trade rules for Northern Ireland — the UK’s only land border with an EU member state, the Republic of Ireland.
But the issue’s resolution in February has now opened the way for the UK’s re-entry into Horizon, which was confirmed on Wednesday, September 6, during a call between Sunak and Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen.
“We have worked with our EU partners to make sure that this is the right deal for the UK, unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers,” Sunak said.
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Under the new deal, UK researchers can start applying for grants and bid to take part in Horizon projects, with their full access starting in January 2024. The agreement also includes participation in Copernicus, the European Earth observation satellite programme.
The EUhas also accepted the UK’s demand to opt out of Euratom, Europe’s atomic energy programme, and instead pursue a domestic fusion energy strategy.A
“The EU and UK are key strategic partners, and today’s agreement proves that point.
London will have to contribute €2.6bn on average per year for its participation to both Horizon and Copernicus, but it won’t have to pay for the time of its absence.
The news was welcomed with joy and relief by the UK’s scientific community, which has been long campaigning for regaining access.
Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, president of Universities UK, highlighted the importance of scientific collaboration beyond borders. “Horizon Europe [and its predecessors have] been the basis of scientific collaboration for over 30 years,” she said.
“From early detection of ovarian cancer to developing clean energy networks involving dozens of universities and many industrial partners, Horizon lets us do things that would not be possible without that scale of collaboration.”
Similarly, Dr Diana Beech, CEO at London Higher, noted that universities “now have the certainty and stability needed to continue powering the engine of UK innovation and to build connectivity across the regions” as they seek to make the country “a global science superpower.”
Overall, the UK’s re-entry intro Horizon marks a pivotal moment not only for London and Brussels’ post-divorce relationship, but also for European innovation and scientific progress.
“The EU and UK are key strategic partners and allies, and today’s agreement proves that point,” said Von der Leyen. “We will continue to be at the forefront of global science and research.”