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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

UK research reaps consequences of extreme stance on Brexit

We are all used to the hypocrisy of government minister brexiteers by now, but the latest intervention by the Foreign Secretary suggests that the government has been living in its own self-contained bubble for some considerable time.

To be fair, in trying to rescue Horizon grants to UK academics, Liz Truss is only doing her job, but given that many of us were warning that Brexit would leave our academic community isolated and unfunded back in 2016, one has to ask why ministers didn't anticipate this latest issue when they broke the Brexit agreement over Northern Ireland. Instead we are left with a last-minute dash to try and salvage something from the wreckage.

The Guardian reports that the UK is triggering dispute proceedings with the EU, accusing it of breaching the Brexit treaty by freezing it out of scientific research programmes following the row over Northern Ireland.

The paper says that the UK government believes the EU was causing serious damage to research and development in both the UK and EU member states, with Britain frozen out of science research programme Horizon, Copernicus, the Earth observation programme, which provides data on climate change, Euratom, the nuclear research programme, and space surveillance and tracking.

They add that British scientists and academic researchers had 115 grants from the Horizon programme terminated in July because of the continuing Brexit row over the Northern Ireland protocol:

Grants had been approved for British applicants after the then Brexit minister, David Frost, successfully negotiated associate membership of the £80bn Horizon Europe programme but most are now being cancelled. The UK was due to pay a £15bn membership fee over seven years to participate in the programme.

Asked about the move, a spokesperson for the European Commission said: “The commission takes note of the UK’s request for consultation and will follow up on this in line with the applicable rules, as set out in the trade and cooperation agreement.”

At a press briefing on Tuesday, a commission spokesperson said: “We continue to recognise the mutual benefit and cooperation in science, research and innovation, nuclear research and space. However, it’s important to recall the political context.

“There are serious difficulties in the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and the trade and cooperation agreement. The TCA provides neither for a specific obligation for the EU to associate the UK to union programmes at this point in time, nor for a precise deadline to do so. We look forward to a prompt resolution.”

This is what happens when you play fast and loose with international agreements in an attempt to resolve short term domestic difficulties of your own making.
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