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Calls for continued UK-EU cooperation as Brexit bell tolls

Image: Daina Le Lardic, European Union

UK participation in EU R&D and education programmes ‘must be agreed in 2020’, groups say

On the day of the UK leaving the EU, 36 research and higher education organisations from across Europe published a joint statement stressing that they “wish to continue working together”, and called for the UK to fully participate in future EU R&D and education programmes.

Agreement on the Horizon Europe R&D programme and Erasmus+ education mobility programme should come before the end of 2020, signatories including the European University Association (EUA) and Universities UK said, as this “would be good for all of us”.

“We call on our national governments and the European Commission to…work swiftly to agree a basis for continued collaboration through the UK’s full association to Horizon Europe and Erasmus+,” the groups said on 31 January.

The UK has access to EU programmes until the end of 2020 under a transition agreement, but would need to agree terms for participating in new programmes due to start in 2021.

A similar sentiment was expressed by the UK’s universities minister, Chris Skidmore. He struck a conciliatory tone in a tweet on Brexit day, saying he would do everything he could to build a new relationship with the EU’s R&D commissioner, Mariya Gabriel.

“Today we are leaving the EU, but we are not leaving our research and educational partnerships with our European neighbours behind,” he said.

The rules for associating to 2021-27 EU programmes have yet to be set. They are tied up with ongoing talks over the EU’s seven-year budget, which will provide the programmes’ funding. Those talks could reach a conclusion at a 20 February meeting of national leaders, paving the way for progress on association.

Draft rules for Horizon Europe suggest that countries with “good capacity” in R&D like the UK could associate provided that this entails “a fair balance as regards the contributions and benefits”.

John Womersley, director-general of the European Spallation Source infrastructure, said UK researchers would have to persuade the UK treasury that paying to join all parts of Horizon Europe would be worth taxpayers’ money.

Thomas Jorgensen, who oversees Brexit policy at the EUA, told Research Professional News that a “pay-as-you-go” model of UK participation in the programmes could nullify arguments around money.

Other groups also put out statements to mark the historic day, which came three-and-a-half years after the UK public voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum.

The Federation of European Academies of Medicine stressed the need to “ensure that the close and productive relationships between researchers is protected and preserved” to improve people’s health.

Markus Beyrer, director general of the lobby group Business Europe, said: “Brexit will not diminish the importance of EU-UK relations and we call on negotiators to work towards a comprehensive deal that will enable the EU and the UK to tackle together the many common future challenges.”