UK Scientists Unlock £85bn Funding Opportunity in Post-Brexit Triumph

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Beginning today, United Kingdom-based scientists and institutions are eligible to submit their applications for a share of a staggering £85bn fund. This opportunity, part of the UK’s associated membership previously agreed upon in the Brexit trade deal of 2020, marks a significant shift following three years of exclusion due to contention over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has voiced his confidence in the endeavor, lauding the immense experience and proficiency the UK researchers offer the global scene. “By delivering a deal that facilitates the participation of UK scientists in the world’s largest research collaboration programme, we have not only manifested an ideal agreement for British taxpayers but also pushed open the doors to unique research opportunities,” Sunak stated.

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Thursday’s official statement revealed another avenue for UK involvement as it associates itself with Copernicus, the EU’s £8bn Earth observation programme. Cooperation with the Euratom R&D, the nuclear research alliance, however, will not be revisited. An understanding has nonetheless been reached for collaboration on nuclear fusion.

According to a press release disseminated by the European Commission, the arrangement will prove advantageous to both parties, with an expected annual contribution of nearly €2.6bn (£2.2bn) by the UK to both Horizon and Copernicus.

The agreement has been met with considerable enthusiasm from the scientific and academic community. Vivienne Stern, Chief Executive of Universities UK, expressed a sentiment of massive relief among scientists following the announcement. She noted the significance of these developments in facilitating broad, cross-border collaborative projects under a shared funding scheme. Stern cited an ambitious project mapping the human brain – involving 500 researchers from 16 countries – underscoring the impossibility of a similar scale through national funding mechanisms.

The UK’s association with Horizon was, in theory, agreed upon during the Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement. However, the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol bogged down the issue. Full UK membership to the programme was held back by the European Commission, prioritizing the observance of UK’s withdrawal commitments.

The recent Windsor Framework was designed to resolve these disparities and has had a significant role in unlocking Horizon association. While the agreement took months of negotiating from both parties, the membership to the science club has been finally realized.

Historically, UK scientists have consistently outperformed, often rivalling Germany — the other European science powerhouse — in the grant process for past Horizon programmes. However, the delay and uncertainty surrounding their association have led to a dip in applications from UK scientists for European projects backed by UK government funds. This new agreement is anticipated to revive the sector, inspiring researchers to reassert their leadership in European science.