Universities warn of EU-UK research scheme ‘close to precipice’
Universities have called for an immediate settlement to a dispute over the UK’s participation in a major EU research initiative.
Universities UK, which represents 140 universities, is concerned that the Horizon project may be scrapped. A letter to the European Commission describes the situation as “near to the precipice”.
The EU has hinted that the UK’s involvement is linked to the dispute over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements.
Horizon Europe is the EU’s main research and innovation funding initiative, with a current budget of €95.5 billion (£81.2 billion).
The UK’s associate membership was accepted in principle under the 2020 Trade and Co-operation Agreement, but after protesting that Brussels was blocking access, ministers have been working on alternatives.
Tensions between the EU and the UK have risen after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced that a new law would be created to allow the UK to unilaterally repeal parts of the agreement.
Universities UK expects that ministers will decide to end the association in the next few weeks and that this decision will be irrevocable.
The UK government said in March that it would extend a financial guarantee for successful Horizon Europe applicants until the end of 2022.
According to Cancer Research UK, exclusion from Horizon Europe would be a “major damage” to cancer-fighting efforts. Horizon is “the world’s largest international research funding programme,” according to Sir Jeremy Farrar of the Wellcome Trust.
That programme brings together researchers from both industry and academia to work on projects ranging from basic research to battling climate change and finding solutions for crippling diseases.
Universities UK’s letter, which asks for a meeting between Mr Sefcovic and UK vice-chancellors, was signed by Professor Paul Boyle of Swansea University.
The European Commission stated that it hoped for a “quick conclusion” and that it recognised “the mutual advantage in science, research and innovation, nuclear research, and space collaboration.”
However, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement did not include a particular commitment to associate with the UK “at this moment, nor a set date to do so,” according to the report.