Scientists' delight as UK rejoins Horizon

The leaders of the UK's science and university communities have reacted with barely disguised glee after Thursday's announcement that the nation is to re-join Horizon Europe, the EU's flagship scientific research programme.

European Union Concept with copy space. Based on imagery from NASA.
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The UK has been excluded from the scheme for almost three years because of differences between London and Brussels over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which covers trade between Britain and Ulster.However, in February the two sides resolved most of their differences over the protocol, leading to negotiations over the UK's re-admission to Horizon. Now agreement has been reached, meaning UK-based scientists and institutions will once again be able to apply for research grants from the €95 billion fund.

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Announcing the agreement, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: "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."We have worked with our EU partners to make sure that this is the right deal for the UK, unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers."The agreement also means the UK will become an associate member of the Copernicus Earth observation programme run by the EU. In a statement, the European Commission said the new deal would be mutually beneficial, adding "overall, it is estimated that the UK will contribute almost €2.6bn per year on average for its participation in both Horizon and Copernicus".Prof Dame Ottoline Leyser, chief executive of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) organisation described the return to Horizon as "brilliant news".She said: "The UK has a long track record of mutually beneficial participation in previous EU schemes and this decision enables us to build on those highly successful collaborations to maximise the opportunities membership of Horizon Europe provides."UKRI is looking forward to working with our communities and partners to capture the many benefits of Horizon Europe for researchers and businesses."

'A true win for everyone'

In a joint statement, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society, said: "This is a great day for researchers in the UK and across Europe. The Horizon programme is a beacon of international collaboration and UK-based academic and industrial researchers will now be back at the heart of that."Research is vital to tackling the key problems we face, from global challenges such as climate change to driving productivity growth and creating new jobs locally. Our involvement in Horizon Europe will make the UK stronger and is a big win for global research and innovation."Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group representing many of the country's leading universities, said the agreement was "a true win-win for everyone".He added: "Association to Horizon Europe is tremendous news for UK science, research and innovation. We are delighted that a good deal has been struck, so all credit to the negotiating teams who have been working hard behind the scenes to get this over the line."The scale of research supported by Horizon Europe will help deliver medical breakthroughs, new technologies, and advances in areas such as AI to improve all our lives and help tackle the shared environmental, economic, and social challenges we face."The research community on both sides of the Channel are raring to go and will spare no effort in making our association a success."

Collaboration key to solving big issues

Tom Clarke, science and technology editor at Sky, said news of the agreement had created "a genuine day of celebration among scientists, not just in the UK but also in the EU" because participation in Horizon was primarily about partnerships that make science work."Crucially, under the deal UK researchers will be able to lead Horizon-funded collaborations - something that brought huge benefits to UK science and was feared lost forever once we left the EU," he said."The overriding joy among scientists is really a sense of relief. The vast majority say the sudden departure from Europe, then Horizon, the protracted confusion over what was happening next, did significant harm to their work. Funded collaborations ended, EU scientists working in the UK left, taking their expertise and, often, up-and-coming talent with them."Prof Dame Sally Mapstone, president of Universities UK (UUK), said the entire research community would be delighted that an agreement had been reached."Allowing our scientists to work together, irrespective of borders, is in all of our interests. Our universities will now do everything possible to ensure the UK rapidly bounces back towards previous levels of participation and is able to secure genuine value, delivering the wealth of research opportunities available," she added.

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