In a landmark decision by the government, the United Kingdom is poised to re-engage with the European Union’s premier scientific research endeavour, Horizon. Beginning immediately, UK-centric scientists and research institutions have been given the green light to submit proposals for financial aid from Horizon’s substantial £85 billion reserve.
An Associate Membership, initially settled upon during the UK’s formal divorce from the EU in 2020, has paved the way for this re-entry. This reintegration, however, follows a hiatus of three years, a product of dissension regarding the problematic Northern Ireland protocol.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak trumpeted the decision, maintaining that the accumulation of UK scientific expertise pays dividends on the global stage. He expressed confidence in UK scientists returning to the world’s most potent research collaborative and maintained this was much in the interests of British taxpayers. Sunak emphasized on UK’s collaborative work with EU counterparts to ensure this deal is fitting for the UK, unlocking unrivalled research possibilities.
This decision has been embraced with open arms by the scientific and academic fraternity. Vivienne Stern, Chief Executive Officer of Universities UK, relayed her sentiments to the BBC, heralding a unanimous ‘colossal sigh of relief’ from the scientific community. She acknowledged the wider scope investigators can now explore across physical boundaries, having access to a common funding pool.
The negotiation process to join Horizon was procured in principle during the Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement but was impeded by the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol. The European Commission stood firm on its stance, denying the UK entry into the program until it upheld its commitments concerning the EU withdraw.
The Windsor Framework, an agreement made in February between Brussels and London to resolve their Northern Ireland predicament, served as the key to initiate the Horizon association. Over the previous half year, both entities have been working diligently on outlining the terms and conditions for membership.
Historically, UK scientists emerged as the frontrunners in securing grants from past Horizon initiatives often occupying the top spot, even superseding other European science titan – Germany. The prolonged delay in formalising this association saw a plummet in submissions from UK scientists to participate in European projects – those that were underwritten by UK government funding.
Following this agreement, government ministers and science officials are optimistic about infusing new energy into the sector, inspiring researchers to once again take the reins of leadership in European science.