UK plans £6bn scientific research fund over fears of exclusion from EU programme

The ongoing Brexit row threatens to spill over into a possible scientific research agreement

The UK is planning to splash billions of pounds on scientific research if the EU shuts it out of a major programme. PA
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The UK government is devising a plan to pump £6 billion into a scientific research fund, in case it is excluded from a major EU programme after the latest Brexit row.

The new global science package would be spread over three years and act as a Plan B option if the UK’s hopes of gaining access to the EU’s Horizon Europe research programme are dashed.

Horizon is the 27-nation bloc’s main funding programme for research and innovation and has a budget of €95 billion (£80 billion).

London and Brussels are locked in a bitter disagreement over the Northern Ireland protocol. The mechanism, which aims to prevent a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, was agreed by both sides in the post-Brexit deal.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss with EU post-Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic at Chevening in Kent. Both sides remain locked in a dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol.

UK science minister George Freeman told British newspaper The Financial Times that he was working on the new international fund, known in science policy circles as Plan B.

But he said ministers are still hoping that the EU will offer Britain associate membership of Horizon Europe. The UK’s association with the programme was envisaged in the Brexit deal signed by both sides but it has not yet taken place as a result of disagreements on Northern Ireland and other issues.

“Our position remains that we want to associate. Hopefully, perhaps after the French elections and the resolution of various issues still being discussed around Brexit, association will be possible,” Mr Freeman said.

He did not specify how long the government would be willing to wait before giving up on Horizon and resorting to Plan B.

The Democratic Unionist Party is employing a protest strategy against the post-Brexit trading arrangements that have created economic barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Last week the party’s Paul Givan resigned as First Minister over the matter.

The political row threatens to spill over into other areas of EU-UK relations, including scientific research.

Mr Givan’s resignation automatically removed Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill from her position.

An Assembly election is already scheduled for May.

Mr Givan’s departure has led to speculation that the poll could be brought forward by several weeks.

Updated: February 07, 2022, 11:18 AM