Britain’s Science Agreement with the European Union in the Post-Brexit Era


European (Parliament Politic Magazine) – After years of extensive negotiations, the United Kingdom has finally solidified its post-Brexit scientific collaboration with the European Union. Scientists had been in a state of uncertainty since the conclusion of the Brexit ‘transition period’ in 2021.

In a recent development, the scientific community welcomed the United Kingdom’s decision to rejoin Horizon Europe, the EU’s flagship research funding program, as an associate member, marking a new era in their collaboration. This move grants UK researchers access to grants and the opportunity to engage in cooperative efforts with their counterparts in member and associate-member nations.

The UK has also recommitted to participating in certain other EU initiatives, including the Earth-observation program Copernicus. However, in certain areas, the United Kingdom will chart its own course, notably by opting out of involvement in the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), among other initiatives.

UK’s Reintegration into Horizon Europe: Research Funding and Collaboration

The United Kingdom has officially reentered Horizon Europe as an associate member, securing its participation until the program’s conclusion in 2027. Commencing in January 2024, scientists based in the UK will once again have the opportunity to access and lead prestigious European Research Council (ERC) grants. Furthermore, UK researchers are now eligible to apply for ongoing grant opportunities related to projects scheduled to commence next year.

However, as a non-EU member, the United Kingdom will not possess decision-making authority on governance issues within Horizon Europe. Additionally, certain limitations on UK involvement persist, particularly in cases where national-security considerations are a factor. These restrictions will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Starting from June 2020, UK awardees of ERC grants faced a choice: either relocate to an EU member state or decline the grant in favor of receiving UK guarantee funding of an equivalent amount, earmarked exclusively for use within the United Kingdom.

Research Funding Opportunities for UK Researchers and Businesses

To facilitate its participation in Horizon, the United Kingdom has committed to an annual payment averaging €2.43 billion. This sum was determined by factoring in the UK’s gross domestic product and adopting the same formula employed by the EU for other ‘third party’ nations engaged with Horizon. These payments are anticipated to occur semi-annually.

A mechanism for rebalancing exists to address situations where there is an imbalance between the funds the United Kingdom contributes and the funds it receives. However, the rules differ depending on the direction of the imbalance. If the United Kingdom gains 8% or more in grant funding beyond its contributions, it is required to repay the excess. 

Conversely, if the UK contributes 16% or more beyond what it receives, the EU will provide a rebate. It’s worth noting that negotiations regarding these specific figures are believed to have played a role in the delay in finalizing the agreement.

Historically, the United Kingdom has been a notable beneficiary of ERC grants. Nevertheless, data indicates that since the 2016 referendum, the UK’s share of these grants has diminished.

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United Kingdom’s Reengagement with Copernicus

The United Kingdom has reestablished its participation in Copernicus, the European Union’s program for Earth observation and climate monitoring. Copernicus, which utilizes both ground-based and space-based instruments, including the Sentinel satellites, oversees various aspects like land, oceans, atmosphere, and climate. 

This renewed collaboration will encompass the inclusion of UK territory within Copernicus services, granting UK users full access to the program’s comprehensive dataset.

Under the terms of this arrangement, the United Kingdom will provide an annual contribution of approximately €154 million for its membership in Copernicus, in addition to its financial commitments to Horizon Europe

British businesses and researchers have the opportunity to compete for contracts related to managing data collection services, offering consultative expertise for monitoring and training. 

They are also eligible to join consortia and submit joint bids for these endeavors.

The bidding eligibility extends to programs scheduled to commence from January 1, 2024, and aligns with the terms applicable to EU member states, subject to certain security-related restrictions. Numerous researchers express their eagerness to rejoin Copernicus without delay. 

For instance, Jonathan Bamber, a physicist affiliated with the University of Bristol, UK, was granted ERC ‘follow-on’ funding in 2022 to advance his project toward commercialization. During that period, UK researchers were not eligible for ERC funds, prompting Bamber to rely on guarantee funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.