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Britain rejoins EU’s Horizon science scheme

Britain rejoins EU’s Horizon science scheme

by host

LONDON — Britain will rejoin two of the EU’s science funding projects in a major post-Brexit shift.

The U.K. government announced Thursday that it will associate to both Horizon Europe, the bloc’s multibillion-euro research funding scheme, and Copernicus, its earth observation program, under a “bespoke new agreement.”

Confirming the pact, which comes after months of talks, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed he had struck the “right deal for the U.K., unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers.”

In its own statement, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU and U.K. “are key strategic partners and allies, and today’s agreement proves that point. We will continue to be at the forefront of global science and research.

From Thursday, British researchers will be able to apply for grants and bid to take part in Horizon projects, the U.K. government said, and Britain will remain a fully associated member for the life of the Horizon program, which currently runs to 2027.

Britain left the EU’s science funding system when it formally quit the bloc in January 2020. Talks on re-associating with Horizon as a third country then stalled amid a bitter row over post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland. Discussions resumed in earnest in March, after London and Brussels struck the Windsor Framework deal on Northern Ireland, and Sunak had been mulling a draft deal over the summer.

But the U.K. government had been pressing for a bigger discount on its association fees, arguing that British science lost out significantly in the two years its researchers were frozen out of the multibillion pound scheme.

Under the deal announced Thursday, the U.K. will not pay association fees for the time it was excluded from the arrangement, the British government said.

It will begin paying into Horizon from January 2024. Britain is also talking up “a new automatic clawback,” which the government said “means the U.K. will be compensated should U.K. scientists receive significantly less money than the U.K. puts into the programme.”

The European Commission said the agreement remains “fully in line with” the two sides’ post-Brexit trade deal, known as the EU-U.K. Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

“The U.K. will be required to contribute financially to the EU budget and is subject to all the safeguards of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement,” the Commission said. “Overall, it is estimated that the U.K. will contribute almost €2.6 billion per year on average for its participation to both Horizon Europe and the Copernicus component of the Space program.”

The British side confirmed, however, that it will not associate to the EU’s Euratom program, the bloc’s nuclear research and innovation scheme, saying instead it had “decided to pursue a domestic fusion energy strategy.” This alternative will have “up to” £650m of funding to 2027, the administration said.

The agreement has so far been given a warm welcome by British science groups.

Adrian Smith, president of the Royal Society, hailed what he called “fantastic news, not just for the U.K. but for scientists across the EU and for all the people of Europe.”

This developing story is being updated.

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