Delays in UK access to EU scientific research programmes: progress and next steps

The UK’s association with Horizon Europe (the EU’s flagship research and innovation funding program with a budget of €95.5 billion) and other major research programs was planned after Brexit prevented the UK from automatically participating in these programs as an EU member. This expectation was enshrined in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (ATC) between the UK and the EU which entered into force on 1 May 2021, but the association has not yet taken place. Instead, ‘plan B’ seems more likely after nearly 18 months of delays, although (yet another) change in Britain’s prime minister and cabinet could again change the direction of travel – including to what plan B looks like.

Association with Horizon Europe is the closest form of cooperation with non-EU countries and allows entities from associated countries to participate in program actions on an equal footing with entities from EU countries. EU.

The UK’s association appears to have become a political bargaining chip for the European Commission in the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol. There have been calls from the UK and European research communities to depoliticize the issue, including a letter from the chief executive of the Russell Group of Universities and another from representatives of thousands of EU universities and research bodies to the President of the European Commission. .

The following most likely scenarios are:

  1. the impasse is resolved and the UK joins forces with Horizon Europe – this seems unlikely to happen soon given that the issue is now politically linked to the Northern Ireland protocol (although a new Sunak administration or a new UK government could change this), or
  2. the UK is implementing its own “Plan B”, which is an alternative national research program – it looks increasingly likely, although a new Sunak administration or UK government could change the details of what Plan B currently looks like, or
  3. UK takes EU to arbitration over delay and alleged breach of ATT – this can happen alongside option 2.

Although all options are still on the table, Plan B seems more likely after the UK government launched formal consultations with the EU this summer to resolve the issue, and no positive updates have been reported after. the meeting between the parties on September 22 in Brussels. who followed the request. In a press release after the September 22 meeting, the UK government said that:

The UK has made it clear that our preference remains association with EU programmes… The UK government is now considering the next steps urgently. Our priority is to support the UK’s world-leading R&D sector and we have already outlined the potential options for doing this.

The UK government has detailed transitional Plan B measures if it is unable to partner with Horizon Europe, Copernicus and Euratom, although information on the longer-term Horizon alternative remains rather vague. . The Support UK R&D and collaborative research beyond EU programs The guidance document was published in July 2022 by the then Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and now discredited by former Chancellor MP Kwasi Kwarteng. Although the detail of the Plan B proposals may change under the second new UK Prime Minister since this guidance document was written, we understand that the Horizon Europe Guarantee is not expected to change and is already in place. The Horizon Europe Guarantee provides that if the UK is unable to partner, it will fund successful applications (in terms of assessment and eligibility criteria) that are submitted to Horizon Europe for funding with a final EU appeal deadline before the point of no association. .

With respect to a longer-term Horizon alternative, the guidance document states that:

In the event that we are unable to partner, we will use the funding allocated to Horizon Europe in the 2021 spending review to build on our existing R&D programs with new flagship investments in research and technology. national and international innovation to support top talent, drive end-to-end innovation and foster international collaboration with EU and global partners.

We remain vigilant on the situation of the Horizon association and more generally on the post-Brexit research funding landscape and await indications from the new government on its intentions and priorities in this regard.

We note that under Boris Johnson’s administration, the 2020 research and development roadmap was ambitious and there was a commitment to spend 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027. June 2021, Johnson created a new National Science and Technology Council “to ensure cutting-edge science and ideas are transformed into solutions for the public good, as part of ambitions to become a global science superpower”, which was closed by Truss. UKRI implemented changes to its grant funding conditions in April this year to reflect some of its roadmap ambitions and post-Brexit legislative changes, including requirements that grant recipients guarantee compliance with National Security and Investment Act 2021UKRI’s revised governance of good research practice policy and an immediate open access requirement for UKRI-funded research publications (see our previous article on this topic here).

If you require further information on any subject covered in this briefing, please contact David Copping, Natalie Rimmer or your usual firm contact on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your particular situation.

© Farrer & Co LLP, October 2022

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