Posted: Thu 7th Sep 2023
The UK is to rejoin the European Union's flagship science and innovation research and development funding programme after a two year hiatus due to disagreements resulting from Brexit.
Horizon Europe is a €95.5bn (£82bn) seven year funding programme that launched in 2020. It provides funding for collaboration between research institutions and innovative businesses in key sectors such as healthcare and artificial intelligence (AI).
Under Horizon 2020, the programme which ran before Horizon Europe, UK researchers and innovators received around €7.5bn, which was 12% of the total available funds.
When the UK exited the European Union in 2020, the plan was for it to remain part of Horizon Europe with associate membership. However, the UK has been excluded from the scheme since 2021 as a result of disagreements related to post-Brexit Northern Ireland trade arrangements.
The government responding by matching the grant funding that UK organisations had lost access to, but many groups and individuals said the country was at a strong disadvantage as it could not collaborate with European researchers and institutions.
In 2021, a joint statement by over 1,000 UK universities and others called for "swift and decisive action to avoid further delays or even non-association which would result in a major weakening of our collective research strength and competitiveness".
Agreement for the UK to rejoin Horizon Europe
The Windsor Framework agreement on Northern Ireland led to new negotiations and the UK government today said it has secured "a bespoke new agreement with the EU" which means the UK can rejoin Horizon Europe.
UK researchers can apply for grants under the Horizon Europe programme immediately.
A joint statement by the European Commission and UK government said:
Association to Horizon Europe will further strengthen and deepen links between the scientific communities in the UK and the EU, foster innovation and enable researchers to work together on global challenges from climate to health.
"The UK government and the European Commission look forward to enabling collaboration between their researchers in which the UK and the EU share a mutual interest, such as in new and emerging technologies.
"To this end, the EU will assess UK participants' access to strategic parts of the Horizon Europe programme on equal terms with other associated countries."
Prime minister Rishi Sunak commented:
"Innovation has long been the foundation for prosperity in the UK, from the breakthroughs improving healthcare to the technological advances growing our economy.
"With a wealth of expertise and experience to bring to the global stage, we have delivered a deal that enables UK scientists to confidently take part in the world’s largest research collaboration programme – Horizon Europe.
"We have worked with our EU partners to make sure that this is right deal for the UK, unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers."
The news was welcomed by many groups.
Professor Sarah Main from the Campaign for Science & Engineering said:
"This news will bring a burst of joy to UK science and will provide the foundation for long-lasting economic, health and technological value to the UK.
“The many organisations that lead with science and research in the UK, including big business, start-ups, universities and health charities, will be delighted with this news.
"With this renewed certainty, scientists and engineers across the UK and Europe can now accelerate their ideas and collaborations, which drive the economy and improves the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere."
Professor Sir Jim McDonald, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, added:
“The whole engineering community – including business, industry and academia – will celebrate the announcement of continued partnership between the UK and EU. Engineering plays a vital role in addressing our critical global challenges, and this welcome development will enable essential international collaboration for the common good.”
Funding available through Horizon Europe
The EU runs accelerator schemes for small businesses and start-ups as part of Horizon Europe. As example is the programme run by the European Innovation Council which provides up to €2.5m of grants and up to €15m of equity investments.
UK Research and Innovation summarises Horizon Europe funding as being available for:
excellent research in any field
global challenges and industrial competitiveness including:
culture, creativity and inclusive society
civil security for society
digital, industry and space
climate, energy and mobility
food, bioeconomy, natural resources, agriculture and environment
the development of the European research and innovation systems