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R&D ties being ‘undermined’ as Brexit looms, MEP warns

Image: Daina Le Lardic, European Parliament

‘Extremists’ in British government claimed to be putting research and innovation at risk

With the UK set to leave the EU on 31 January, claims that the country will retain access to the bloc’s R&D programmes “are not backed up by any structured negotiating position”, Christian Ehler, a lead MEP for the 2021-27 programme Horizon Europe, has warned.

“The area of research and innovation policy, which is so important for both sides, is increasingly becoming a game for domestic political interests,” Ehler said in a statement he released following the European Parliament’s approval of the Brexit withdrawal agreement on 29 January.

“The British government’s promises to industry and research, including universities, are not only [affected] by the lack of negotiating concept, but are being actively undermined by extremists in the Tory government,” he claimed.

“We should continue to keep the door open to science in the UK, but at the moment the prospects look rather blurry,” added Ehler, who is as a senior member of the Parliament’s research committee.

The Parliament approved the withdrawal agreement by an overwhelming 621 votes in favour to 49 against. National leaders in the European Council approved it the following day, ensuring an orderly UK withdrawal from the EU at the stroke of midnight CET on 31 January.

The UK will retain full access to all EU programmes until the end of 2020 under a transition period. Access from 2021 onwards will be subject to negotiations on the future relationship, which will be led for the EU by chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. 

Manfred Weber, the parliamentary leader of the European People’s Party—the centre-right political group to which Ehler also belongs—said the EU must “protect the interests of our citizens, fishermen and farmers, students and entrepreneurs” in the negotiations.

MEP David McAllister, the EPP’s lead on Brexit, said trade and security cooperation would be priorities during the limited time allotted for talks.

Academic leaders called for swift progress in the negotiations.

“To maintain the international exchange with Great Britain in research, teaching and studying, we need clear rules and perspectives quickly,” Joybrato Mukherjee, president of the German Academic Exchange Service, said in a statement.

Brexit is “a blow to the reunification of Europe’s intellectual capacities”, Mukherjee said, adding that the EU “will only remain competitive as an outstanding research location if it bundles the forces that are spread across a number of countries”.

He said: “We need quickly binding regulations for tuition fees, visas and residence rights as of 2021 and with a view to the future participation of the United Kingdom in Erasmus+ and other EU programmes.”