UK Returns to Horizon Europe, Easing Brexit Pressures on Science Collaboration

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In a seminal decision announced on Thursday, the United Kingdom has returned to Europe’s prominent $100 billion scientific exchange program, Horizon Europe, more than two years after its membership was compromised due to Brexit. The news engendered a sense of relief among British scientists and manifested as a potential harbinger of an improving relationship between the EU and its erstwhile member nation.

Following prolonged parleys, the British government declared the UK’s transition into a “fully associated member” of the U.K.-based research joint endeavor. Effective immediately, UK scientists can vie for Horizon’s funds, with capabilities to spearhead Horizon-funded scientific projects commencing in 2024. Additionally, the UK reaffirms its commitment to Copernicus, the EU’s space program focused on Earth observation.

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Endorsing the decision, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, commented, “The EU and U.K. represent cardinal strategic partners and allies, and this agreement attests to the fact. We will persist in pioneering global science and research.”

Amid a dispute over trade regulations for Northern Ireland, the only UK region sharing a frontier with an EU member, the Republic of Ireland, the EU had previously barred Britain from Horizon. Although issues were seemingly resolved in February, subsequent Horizon-related discussions were protracted due to disagreements on the UK’s financial obligations for membership.

The new agreement, deemed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as an equitable arrangement for British taxpayers, demands nearly 2.6 billion euros ($2.8 billion) per annum on average from Britain for participation in Copernicus and Horizon. Notably, Britain is exempted from payments for the period during which it was excluded from the science-sharing scheme, which has a budgetary allocation of 95.5 billion euros ($102 billion) for the duration 2021-27.

The long-drawn-out divorce proceedings following Britain’s 2016 resolution to split from the EU strained bilateral ties considerably, culminating in the finalisation of a minimalist trade and cooperation pact in 2020. The subsequent term under vehemently pro-Brexit ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson put a further chill on relations.

Sunak’s government, succeeding Johnson’s scandal-laden tenure, has actively undertaken efforts for mending Britain’s ties with the European nations, despite the persistence of trade frictions and underlying mistrust.

British scientists, earlier apprehensive of Brexit’s impact on international research cooperation, expressed their elation at the Horizon agreement. Paul Nurse, director at the Francis Crick Institute for Biomedical Research, remarked, “This crucial step ameliorates our global scientific standing.”

While the opposition Labour Party commended the agreement, it also cautioned about the missed possibilities over the last two years. “Such delays have led global firms to establish their research centres elsewhere, bypassing Britain due to its exclusion from Horizon,” Labour science spokesman Peter Kyle commented, highlighting the squandered national potential.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.