UK plan to rejoin EU’s Horizon scheme may be jeopardised by cash demands, science minister suggests

Britain could be stung by EU demands to cough up for two years’ worth of Horizon membership fees despite being blocked from Brussels’ flagship research scheme over Northern Ireland row, science minister George Freeman warns

  • Science minister George Freeman says ‘door is open’ for Britain to rejoin Horizon
  • But he suggests wrangling over cash could yet scupper hopes of UK-EU deal¬†

Science minister George Freeman today suggested Britain’s plan to rejoin the EU’s Horizon scheme could be jeopardised by more post-Brexit wrangling over money.

Under the Brexit trade deal between London and Brussels, the UK was permitted access to a range of EU science and innovation programmes, including the 100 billion euro Horizon programme.

But Britain’s bid to resume participation in Horizon was subsequently blocked by the EU following the bitter row over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland.

Now that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has presented his Windsor Framework to resolve the Northern Ireland Protocol dispute, Mr Freeman said the ‘door is now open’ for the UK to rejoin Horizon.

But he warned Britain could yet be met by EU demands to pay up for financial contributions to the flagship scheme during the two years from which the UK’s association was blocked.

Science minister George Freeman suggested Britain’s plan to rejoin the EU’s Horizon scheme could be jeopardised by more post-Brexit wrangling over money

Mr Freeman said Rishi Sunak's 'rapprochement' with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over Northern Ireland would see 'a whole raft of talks going on' with EU leaders

Mr Freeman said Rishi Sunak’s ‘rapprochement’ with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over Northern Ireland would see ‘a whole raft of talks going on’ with EU leaders

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If you’ve been out of the club, not by your own volition for two years, the monies that you would have paid in for full membership over the whole seven years clearly aren’t due.

‘And so we need to sit down and come up with a sensible package.’

Mr Freeman expressed confidence that Mr Sunak’s ‘rapprochement’ with the EU over Northern Ireland would see ‘a whole raft of talks going on’ with European leaders over issues such as Horizon and the Channel migrant crisis.

‘What’s going on with Horizon is that we agreed and negotiated to join just over two years ago as part of the Brexit deal,’ he added.

‘And we’ve been held up, blocked out because of the Northern Ireland Protocol impasse.

‘Now that that’s cleared, we now have the ability as the PM did say last week to sit down and sought a whole raft of issues out with EU including this.’

Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation with a budget of 95.5 billion euros.

The Government today announced it was extending until the end of June the financial guarantee it has provided to ensure UK applicants to Horizon receive funding while negotiations continue on Britain rejoining the scheme.

Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said: ‘We are determined to ensure our world-class researchers are given the clarity and certainty they need to continue their sterling work.

‘This is why I am taking the immediate step to extend the Horizon Europe guarantee, worth ¬£882million to date, for an additional three months to the end of June.’