A deal for the UK to rejoin the research program Horizon Europe is “awaiting a signature” from UK PM Rishi Sunak, according to multiple media reports.
Sources within the government have been reported saying that a draft of the deal has gone into 10 Downing Street, with Sunak being given “options” to sign the deal by July 11, and possible meetings with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, are due to take place.
A government spokesperson, however, told The PIE News that talks were still “ongoing” and therefore “a deal has not been reached”.
“These reports do not reflect current state of negotiations. Talks are continuing constructively.
“UK participation in EU programmes must be fair for UK researchers, businesses and taxpayers, and we have set out our bold, ambitious alternative, Pioneer, if we’re not able to secure association on that basis,” the government spokesperson said.
Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK, told the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 that universities across the country would be “keeping their fingers and toes crossed” for a good outcome.
“I think right across Europe and beyond, there’s a desire to have the UK back in this big programme to collaborate on research.
“It’s an £85bn, seven year funding scheme which allows people from not just the EU, but many countries to come together and work on research projects where you just can’t do things alone,” Stern explained.
She went on to say that in the last involvement UK had with Horizon Europe, UK researchers worked with counterparts from “163 countries”.
An issue that is stalling the final agreement of the deal is reportedly the cost of the re-entry process.
The negotiations are continuing after months of talks – the door to which was opened after the parties reached an agreement in February on trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.
“We welcome any indications of progress towards a deal on Britain’s association to Horizon Europe. The seriousness with which the UK and EU are taking negotiations is encouraging and we hope a deal can be confirmed as soon as possible,” said Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group.
“People can’t stop calling [Pioneer] plan B because it’s not as good as Plan A”
“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,” he continued.
Researchers have always been skeptical of Pioneer, according to Stern.
“The backup plan the government developed – UUK had a lot to do with the development of it – it’s a good, credible plan B, but people can’t stop calling it plan B, and that’s because it’s not as good as Plan A,” Stern admitted.
The government extended its Horizon Guarantee, protecting funding in the case that it does not return to Horizon Europe, in June to last until the end of September 2023.
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