Freeman: UK ‘ready’ to walk away from Horizon Europe

‘Deeply problematic’ deadlock over Britain’s membership of European research scheme cannot continue, warns science minister ahead of ‘last round of talks’

June 7, 2022
George Freeman
Source: Richard Townshend

Science minister George Freeman said that the UK was ready to launch its own £15 billion international research programme, as he prepared to visit Brussels for the “last round of talks” over Horizon Europe association.

In a blunt message to the European Union, Mr Freeman warned that “time was running out” following the bloc’s “continued blocking of the UK from Europe’s flagship research programmes that we have negotiated”, and the UK government was set to press ahead with its own global research scheme.

“We can’t let UK researchers be sidelined,” said Mr Freeman in a series of tweets ahead of his visit the Belgian capital, saying the lengthy delays to the UK’s agreed membership of Horizon Europe were “deeply problematic”.

The EU had indicated that it would not let the UK join its Horizon Europe programme, worth €95 million (£80 billion) over the next seven years, until post-Brexit trade issues related to Northern Ireland, which the UK wants to renegotiate, have been settled.

While Mr Freeman said the UK was still committed to joining Horizon Europe, and wanted to “remain active research partners with EU countries and third country participants”, he added that if “the EU block us we are now ready to launch a new £15 billion global research programme”.

Mr Freeman has hinted that the new scheme of international collaboration would seek deeper ties with world-class research institutions in Israel, Switzerland, Australia and Singapore, as well as foster relationships with researchers in emerging economies such as the Philippines.

“We will have no choice but to launch a bold, global alternative to Horizon which provides world class fellowships, stronger industry/innovation and global research collaborations,” he added.

Mr Freeman’s message follows an open letter by Universities UK which warned that the government was “on the precipice” of walking away from membership of Horizon Europe “as early as June”. It comes as several UK-based winners of Horizon Europe grants have been forced to forfeit their funding and leadership of pan-European projects.

Once the UK had left and embarked on its own scheme, it would be difficult to reverse that decision, UUK warned.

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