Mutual self-harm! EU accused of holding UK over barrel in Brexit row on £10bn fund

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British universities and laboratories have been blocked access to the EU’s £80bn Horizon Europe funding programme. The EU previously agreed to give the UK associate membership to the programme, but this has not been carried out. Access was also granted to Switzerland after a trade deal, but they do not have access either.

The UK were agreed to have access on Christmas Eve 2020 after a trade deal, but instead have suffered a delay of over a year.

As a result, scientists both in Europe and the UK have started a campaign to gain UK admittance to the research and innovation programme.

Brussels has been criticised for delaying the process in an attempt to use access to the fund as a bargaining chip in negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol.

It was agreed in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement that Britain would provide £15 billion across seven years so UK scientists could access the funding opportunities and the science network to work with European partners.

Despite the agreement, EU chiefs have told Britain that it cannot rejoin the programme until Brexit disputes such as the fishing row and the Northern Ireland protocol have been resolved.

Former Conservative Peer and Brexiteer Matt Ridley said that the EU banned the UK to “punish” it for leaving the bloc.

He added: “Countries like Iceland and Norway are not only taking part in the research programmes but are leading some of them, even though they are not members of the European Union.”

The Horizon Programme currently has 14 non-EU countries with associated membership.

The House of Lords European Affairs Committee analysed the delay in membership and its chair, Lord Kinnoull said: “This is a mutual self-harm problem. And that’s not good for something very precious, which is European scientific research.”

“Last week we had two British academics and a European academic in front of us and there was a great clarity from all of them about how this was harmful to European science. Collaborative projects are much more than just a cheque.”

He added: “If you say you have a half-funded project you are very keen to do, you are not necessarily going to get the thumbs up.”

Nobel prize winner and Swiss astronomer Dider Queloz called the issue a tragedy for the field in the UK, Switzerland and Europe.

Mr Queloz is supporting the campaign by scientists to allow Swiss and UK access to the programme and said: “If this is the way the game plays out, everybody loses. 

“We risk destroying a fantastic tool that the EU has spent decades developing by excluding two of the biggest players in the global research area for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the programme itself.”

Scientists are in agreement that independent scientific research is a thing of the past and that collaboration is the only way forward as it has resulted in major successes in modern times including the Covid vaccines.

In The Financial Times Queloz said: “As a scientist holding posts at the universities of Cambridge and Geneva, I recognise that I am conflicted.

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“But, approaching 60, this decision won’t affect my career very much. 

“I am not batting for myself, I’m batting for the future generation of scientists who will be held back by this failure in politics.”

“If the UK and Switzerland walk away, the Horizon budget will be lower; there will be fewer opportunities for young talent to spend time in our great universities.”

It has been suggested that the other option for the UK would be to branch out into international science rather than just European science.

Membership to the Horizon programme would limit the UK to the best scientists within Europe rather than the best scientists elsewhere, potentially meaning collaborating with second-best scientists.

Matt Ridley said: “I think in Britain we should encourage international collaboration with scientists and should encourage to choose their collaborators based purely on merit rather than what country they are from.”

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