UK may face ‘major delays’ in EU funding even if Brexit deal struck

Academic also claims European Commission officials told him UK coordinators would be kicked out in event of no-deal Brexit

September 19, 2019
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UK academics are likely to encounter major delays in receiving Horizon 2020 funding even if a Brexit deal is struck, while UK coordinators of such projects may be required to step down immediately in the event of a no-deal scenario, claims a scholar who has spoken with officials at the European Commission.

Peter Coveney, chair in physical chemistry at UCL, told Times Higher Education that he had a phone conversation with two officers at the European Commission on 10 September to discuss the UK’s participation in Horizon 2020, the bloc’s current research programme.

He said he was told that if a Brexit deal was struck ahead of the deadline of 31 October there would probably be “major delays and disruption” in terms of the UK receiving continuing funding for existing projects because “the terms [of an agreement] would take time to be put in place”.

Meanwhile, in the event of no deal, “as of 1 November, the European Union will cease to provide any money to UK partners” and “UK coordinators of Horizon 2020 projects will be required to step down”, he said.

“This is the first time I have heard that statement made by the Commission, and it is categorical. The aforementioned actions will be triggered immediately in the event of no deal,” Professor Coveney said, adding that the officials made it clear that “they had consulted with senior officials and the Commission’s legal team and were advising me on that basis”.

Professor Coveney, who coordinates two Horizon 2020 projects with a combined value of €12 million (£10.6 million), said that he has “found it necessary to regularly seek professional legal advice to handle issues that I once assumed would be competently handled by the universities in which I have worked”.

“No evidence has been available to justify the assumption rife in UK universities that there is little to worry about,” he added.

Guidance published by the UK government on 9 August states that the UK has “committed to guarantee funding for all successful competitive UK bids to Horizon 2020 that are submitted before we leave the EU, if there’s a no-deal Brexit”.

But Professor Coveney said that the guarantee “only extends to funding for participation by the UK institution, not the funding for any non-UK partners, and potentially not the funding for any coordination undertaken by the UK institution”.

Kurt Deketelaere, secretary general of the League of European Research Universities, agreed that in the case of no deal, UK academics would not be able to coordinate Horizon 2020 projects because the UK would become a “third country”.

However, he said he was confident that if there is a deal there would be “a maximum amount of flexibility on the side of the EU to have a business-as-usual scenario”.

“The only situation we really have to worry about is no deal,” he added.

Thomas Jørgensen, senior policy coordinator at the European University Association, said that if a Brexit deal is struck then there will be a transition period and the UK will continue to receive Horizon 2020 funding as usual.

Meanwhile, the UK will also be eligible for funding in the case of no deal if it continues to pay into the Horizon 2020 budget, he said.

The European Commission did not respond to questions on the position of UK coordinators of Horizon 2020 projects in the case of a no deal, or on potential delays to funding if there is a deal.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: UK faces ‘major funding delays’

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