With relations between the UK and EU growing ever further apart, the plan to withdraw from the Horizon Europe, Copernicus and Euatom projects will see Britain seek to fund its own domestic alternatives. The UK had signed a contract to remain with the three projects following Brexit, however, plans appear to be changing as senior ministers consider the notion of triggering Article 16 over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Discussions over UK readiness for triggering it are accelerating, with ministers and officials currently debating whether to hold a Parliamentary vote should they be forced to act.
Should the UK do so, the EU warned this week that it will face “serious consequences”.
The bloc is expected to hit back with punitive tariffs on high-value British exports, stricter controls of British lorries and suspension of the data transfer arrangements with the UK.
The UK is set to contribute £2.1billion annually to the seven-year Horizon programme in order to maintain access for British scientists and researchers to pan-European projects and funding.
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It has also secured access to the Copernicus Earth observation programme, deemed vital to the UK space sector while reaching a separate deal on continued involvement in the Euratom nuclear research programme.
However, the entry has been stalled by the EU despite other non-member states such as Norway already receiving formal association status – meaning British institutions are missing out on research and funding opportunities.
Now a leaked Government paper, circulated at a Brexit Cabinet sub-committee this week, has revealed that ministers believe the delay is a deliberate bid by Brussels to create leverage in the talks over Northern Ireland.
Officials also feel that the programmes will soon stop representing value for money.
The leaked document says that while there is hope the EU could de-escalate, departments have been told to prepare “alternatives to each programme in case association should not prove possible to a satisfactory timeline”.
The UK’s participation in Horizon, Euratom and Copernicus would also be likely to be used as leverage in the ongoing Northern Ireland Protocol saga.
According to the Government’s latest paper, entitled “UK’s approach to participation in EU programmes”, a number of actions have been ordered to help mitigate the threat.
It is also understood that Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, has been working with Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, on reviving a British alternative to Horizon Europe known as the Discovery Fund.
In a sign that frustration with Brussels is at an all-time high, the paper goes on to say that work should begin even though the “programme benefits cannot be fully replicated in domestic alternatives” and withdrawing “would impact the ambition to become a science superpower”.
Restoring Britain’s place as a world leader in science is a key plank of Boris Johnson’s vision for “Global Britain”.
Britain has already taken several key scientific and industrial steps forward since leaving the bloc.
In a bid to compete with China, the US and the EU, super-strength magnets are being considered as part of the UK’s technology sector, a component vital in the production of semiconductors and electric vehicle batteries.
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