Grant scheme

Boost for science as Britain re-joins Horizon scheme

Rishi Sunak in Glasgow
Rishi Sunak wanted the best deal for taxpayers (pic: Terry Murden)

Britain’s research community has been given a huge boost by the country rejoining the EU’s science programme after two years of absence following Brexit.

Britain will adopt associate membership of the Horizon scheme, the main cross-European research funding mechanism.

British scientists were among the biggest beneficiaries before the UK withdrew from the EU and re-entry will provide access to big grants unavailable elsewhere. In turn, it should make it easier to for Britain to lead international projects.

While hailing Britain’s return, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been sceptical about a scheme that he sees as bureaucratic and unimaginative.

Agreement has been reached on a rebate for Britain during its years of absence and the deal will be seen as a further softening in relations with the EU.

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

Dr Benjamin Reid, programme director for Innovation at the CBI said:   “Collaboration on research and innovation with the EU is key boosting the UK’s competitiveness, driving long-term sustainable growth and tackling global challenges such as climate change. 

“Today’s confirmation that the UK and EU have signed a deal on the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe unlocks access to the €95.5bn (£81bn) programme, giving a much-needed boost to UK innovators and adding further credibility to the government’s ambition for the UK to be a science and innovation superpower. 

“With all eyes rightly focused on boosting the UK’s economic productivity to mitigate the current high-cost environment, the CBI will look to play its part by working closely with the government and wider research sector to ensure the UK can get the best value for money from the programme.” 

Dr Joe Marshall, chief executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) said: “Investing in global research partnerships is critical to maximise UK universities and business’ ability to lead projects, generate high-impact outputs and realise a range of economic, health, environmental and social benefits for the UK.

“The UK will benefit hugely from its association with Horizon Europe and the returns are significant. Indeed, for every €1 spent, the direct and indirect economic effects produce €11.

“The UK is particularly well placed to capture a disproportionate share of the economic value that Horizon generates due to the strength and diversity of our research base and our many innovative businesses.

“Association also sends an important and positive signal to businesses undertaking research and development in the UK. It helps make the UK the best place in the world to invest in research.

“This is a hugely positive step forward for UK research and development. However, the battle is not yet won. We are now calling on the UK Government and the European Commission to finalise arrangements as soon as possible. Only then will UK researchers once again play a leading role in delivering important projects through Horizon Europe.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat deputy leader Wendy Chamberlain said: “This is welcome news for research scientists across the UK who have been desperate to regain access to this crucial funding.

“I know that universities including the University of St Andrews in my constituency have been pushing for this ever since the Conservatives’ Brexit deal forced them out of the programme.

“However, the government must also recognise that scientists and their research have suffered real damage during the three years it has taken to re-join the programme. Strategic partnerships and precious time have been lost.

“They now have to explain what they will do to further support the university sector. I will continue to press the government on a number of issues including the serious flaws with its Turing scheme.”

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