University leaders have asked the European Commission to urgently resolve the issue of the UK’s association to Horizon Europe.
A letter from Universities UK, which represents 140 universities, warns that the UK is “close to the precipice” and that the government may decide to abandon participation in Horizon as soon as this month.
It was agreed in Brexit talks that the UK would continue its affiliation with Horizon, the EU’s funding program for research and innovation, but the negotiations to confirm the terms of this have been ongoing for the past 17 months.
“The situation is deteriorating everyday”
“The situation is deteriorating everyday that the uncertainty drags on,” wrote Professor Paul Boyle, vice-chancellor of Swansea University and UUK’s research lead, in a letter sent to Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission.
Ongoing research collaboration between European member states through #HorizonEurope will ensure stability and continuity in Europe’s research sector at a time of broader political discord#StickToScience pic.twitter.com/gSPNsRzatn
— Stick to Science (@Stick2Science) May 31, 2022
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 earlier today, Vivienne Stern, director at Universities UK International, said the delay was politically-motivated.
“There’s nothing to stop that agreement being signed tomorrow, as far as I can see,” Stern said.
“It’s completely independent of other aspects of the trade and cooperation agreement, so the hold up is entirely political.
“Because of this ongoing dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol, the commission is simply saying they won’t progress the agreement at this time”.
The UK government is preparing legislation to abandon the Northern Ireland trade protocol, which was originally signed as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement in 2019.
The EU has previously said that it will respond to this move “with all measures at its disposal”.
In its letter, UUK asks that “both sides work together” to ensure scientific collaboration can continue.
Stern said it would be a “tragedy” if the UK’s association with Horizon is abandoned.
“It’s something that’s in our interests in the UK, but it’s in the interests of our European colleagues and I think also, it’s in the global interest that scientists can work together on the big challenges that face us all”.
An EU spokesperson previously told The PIE that they looked forward to a “prompt resolution” but that the trade and cooperate agreement provides neither an obligation nor a “precise deadline” for association.
The UK has set aside approximately £15 billion to fund research in the case the association to Horizon does not happen.