Following Brexit, the UK’s association with Horizon Europe has continually been contested and debated. What are the possibilities for a lasting UK and Horizon Europe partnership?

With a budget of €95.5 billion, the EU’s flagship research and innovation funding programme, Horizon Europe, holds a tremendous amount of international power when concerning the future of R&D projects.

The removal of the UK from the programme was expected as it was written into the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the UK and EU that came into force on the 1st of May 2021; however, the future remains unclear.

A UK and Horizon Europe partnership appears to have become an EU Commission political bargaining chip in the Northern Ireland Protocol dispute, according to many.

The most likely scenarios to come are:

  1. The impasse is resolved, and the UK continues to associate with Horizon Europe
    • This seems unlikely to happen, given that the issue is now linked politically to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
  2. The UK implements its own “Plan B”, creating a possible alternative domestic research programme.
  3. The UK takes the EU to arbitration over the delay and alleged breach of the TCA
    • This could also happen alongside option 2.

Options 2 and 3 are looking more and more likely, as a potential future UK and Horizon Europe partnership moves further away following the formal consultations initiated by the UK government.

The UK’s current outline for Plan B

Following a meeting between the parties on 22 September in Brussels, the UK Government stated:

“The UK has been clear that our preference remains association to EU programmes…The UK government is now urgently considering the next steps. Our priority is to support the UK’s world-leading R&D sector, and we have already outlined potential options for doing so.”

The UK Government has released a selected amount of information on the Plan B transitional measures if it cannot associate with Horizon Europe, Copernicus and Euratom. However, information on the longer-term Horizon alternative remains fairly vague.

In respect of a longer-term Horizon alternative, the policy paper stated:

“In the event we are unable to associate, we will use the funding allocated to Horizon Europe at the 2021 Spending Review to build on our existing R&D programmes with flagship new domestic and international research and innovation investments to support top talent, drive end-to-end innovation and foster international collaboration with EU and global partners.”

Clearly, the UK government is taking the protection and funding of UK R&D researchers seriously. However, it is hard to know what will come in the following months as our newest Prime Minister takes the reins.


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