UK accelerates work on alternative to EU research programme | Daily News Byte

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Sage Sunk has ordered swift work on a “proper blueprint” for the UK’s new global science strategy as a stand-off continues over Britain’s participation in the EU’s €95bn Horizon research programme.

The Prime Minister has asked the Science Minister, George Freeman, to work on a “bold” Plan B for global science collaboration outside the Horizon Europe framework.

Horizon’s UK associate membership was foreseen in the Brexit deal but has been blocked by the EU due to a bitter dispute over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.

An aide to the prime minister said, “Rishi is seriously considering the option of Horizon. “They are keen on this and looking at what we are getting out of the current system compared to what we are putting in.

“He is consulting on this and has asked [the business department] To prepare a proper blueprint of what our own version will be. But no decision has been taken.”

Freeman has been working on Plan B to Horizon for several months and told the Financial Times this week: “Plans are well underway to develop ambitious alternative ways for UK researchers to collaborate internationally.”

He said he was committed to strengthening Britain’s international commitment to science despite the EU’s “disappointing weaponisation of our science cooperation”.

Freeman also said Britain was building closer ties with countries including Sweden, Switzerland and New Zealand. Last week it announced a £119mn “international science partnership fund” in Tokyo.

Sunak’s intervention will be seen in Brussels as the prime minister tries to increase pressure on the EU to let Britain participate in Horizon, although one Downing Street insider said: “This is not babble.”

Britain’s university leaders have urged the government to break the deadlock. European scientists also value their collaboration with UK researchers under Horizon and Britain’s elite academic institutions have applied to the European Commission.

Hopes are rising in London and Brussels that the deadlock on the horizon could be broken as early as 2023 if a solution to the corrosive row over trading arrangements contained in the Northern Ireland Protocol can be found as part of a Brexit deal.

The mood around UK-EU talks on the protocol has improved and both sides hope to settle on revised arrangements before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Peace Agreement next Easter, although significant differences remain.

Brexit Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič has made it clear that UK participation in Horizon is on hold until Britain implements the Protocol.

“Why would we sign another agreement with the UK unless they comply with the one we already have?” An EU official said.

Sunac’s allies declined to say what the prime minister would do if the EU reopened the door to British participation in Horizon 2023, but confirmed the option was still on the table.

Brussels has signed Horizon Membership Agreements with 17 non-EU countries, including the latest with New Zealand on 20 December. It includes Albania, Turkey and Montenegro. Canada is negotiating to join.

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