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What does the Brexit deal mean for research?

14 Jan 2021

Our Assistant Director, Daniel Rathbone, takes a look at what the Brexit Deal means for the research sector

Over the Christmas break, while most of us were busy eating mince pies and waiting to see what Santa would bring, a Brexit deal between the UK and the EU was finally agreed on Christmas Eve. 

The deal stretched to over 1000 pages and much of it has already come into force on the 1st January. Those of us in the research sector were on the lookout for what it would mean for important UK-EU research collaborations. The news is (mostly) good but there is a lot of detail to work through! 

Good news

The good news is the deal contains the framework for the UK to fully associate to Horizon Europe (and other research programmes like Copernicus and Euratom) – a great outcome for the sector and what we have been asking for throughout the negotiating period. The deal contains the details of how the UK’s financial contribution will be worked out and a draft protocol published alongside the deal sets out the terms of association. 

The protocol can be finalised and brought into effect by the UK and EU as soon as the EU completes final sign off of the regulation governing Horizon Europe (expected in the next few weeks). Hopefully the protocol can then be sorted out in time for the UK to be involved in the first calls for Horizon Europe expected in March or April.

The nitty-gritty

The UK will be able to participate in all parts of Horizon Europe, including European Research Council, Marie Curie- Sklodowska Actions and ERICs, with two small exceptions. The EU will be able to exclude the UK from some calls on security grounds, but this is only expected to affect a very small number of calls. The UK will also not be involved in the European Innovation Council (EIC) equity fund, which provides equity investment to SMEs, but it will be involved in EIC grant programmes. The UK will have representation on the Horizon programme committees but won’t have voting rights. However, it is very rare for anything to come to a vote because the committees work on consensus as much as possible. 

The UK’s financial contribution will be based on GDP and there will be an administration fee on top that will be phased in over the next few years. The deal includes a mechanism where the UK will pay more if, over a certain period of time, it gets more out of the programme than it pays in. There is also a review process if the UK gets out a certain amount less than it pays in. This will give some reassurance to the Treasury that the costs of associating can be kept under control and provide value for money.

Not so-good news

The bad news was that the UK and EU were unable to come to an agreement on UK participation in Erasmus, the scheme that enables students to study in other European countries. The UK Government has said it will set up the alternative Turing Scheme to provide these opportunities for UK students. However, it will need to be properly resourced and funded to be able to match the scale and prestige of the Erasmus scheme. It will also take time for it to get up and running.

The Rest

There are some other parts of the deal which are likely to affect researchers. These include recognition of qualifications and mobility.

Professional qualifications obtained in the UK will now no longer be automatically recognised in EU member states. It is possible that researchers that go to work in an EU member state will need to ensure their qualifications are recognised by that member state. Adding some complexity, the process may be different for each member state. 

Immigration and visa rules will now apply to EU researchers coming to the UK and vice-versa. For short term trips to the UK or EU of up to 90 days in any 180-day period researchers can undertake scientific research without the need for a visa. This will be helpful for those collaborating on Horizon Europe projects. For longer stays, visas will be required. EU researchers coming to work in the UK will be able to apply for Global Talent visas while UK researchers going to the EU will need to follow the rules for each particular member state.

So, what next?

We await final sign off of the protocol so that the UK can be fully involved in Horizon Europe. After several years of uncertainty, it will be important to get the message out to UK and European researchers that the UK is fully involved in order to encourage greater participation.

As yet the UK Government has not said how it will pay for the UK’s association or who in Government will be responsible for managing it. We strongly recommend that the Government does not use money in existing research and innovation budgets to pay for association. It will be much harder for the Government to meet its targets for greater research intensity if it takes funds from existing science budgets.

You can read the deal and all it’s associated documentation (if you really want to!) on the website here: