With Brexit issues back in the news, our Assistant Director, Daniel Rathbone, gives an update on Horizon Europe association.

Back in December 2020 when the Brexit agreement was signed it seemed to be all good news for the UK’s association to Horizon Europe. All the details of how association would work had been finalised – all that was needed was for the UK Government and European Commission to sign off on association once the details of the Horizon Europe programme were sorted.

Unfortunately, that is not how it has panned out – and research could become a casualty of politics in a wider dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP).

It would be a clear victory for research and innovation across the UK and Europe if the UK was able to associate to Horizon Europe, regardless of the political disagreements over the NIP. CaSE, along with others in the sector, has consistently argued that association is a win-win for Europe and the UK and would allow researchers to continue with world leading research and collaborations. Our director, Sarah Main, appeared on the Today programme to talk about it back in December 2021.

However, things have not really moved on since then, and this week the NIP has been back in the news as the Government announced plans to introduce legislation that would make changes to the protocol. The hardening of positions on Northern Ireland could jeopardize the agreement on association to Horizon Europe, bringing significant risks to research and innovation.

Not only would researchers lose access to multi-billion euro research programmes, it could damage scientific relations and collaborations that have been built up over many years by the hard work of research teams across the UK and Europe. All at a time when the Government is trying to strengthen the UK’s international science brand.

CaSE continues to call on the UK Government and European Commission to build on all the hard work done by negotiators back in 2020 to agree the terms of UK access to European research programmes and to secure our future scientific partnership.

In the meantime, the UK Government must take strong action to mitigate the negative impact the ongoing uncertainty is having on the research sector in the UK, by building on the UKRI guarantees. In the unhappy event that association does not proceed, the Government must bring forward details for a robust ‘Plan B’. As well as a long term vision for the future of international collaboration, this must include short term measures to allow universities and businesses to adapt to a large and sudden change to the research funding landscape.

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