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UK to offer £1bn a year for Horizon 2020 access

Government keen to join future Framework programmes

The UK government could be prepared to pay the European Union €1.3 billion (£1.2bn) a year in return for Horizon 2020 participation after Brexit, and is expected to express its desire to participate in future Framework programmes.

The figure is the average amount that UK organisations receive in EU research funding each year. The Department for Exiting the EU is due to publish a position paper on science and innovation on 6 September.

The paper is expected to seek continued cooperation in nuclear research under the European Atomic Energy Community, and ongoing participation in the European Reference Networks programme on rare diseases, The Times reported on 4 September. The UK will also want continued access to the Galileo navigation system and the Copernicus Earth observation programme, it said.

The publication of the paper comes a week after EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier (above, right) announced that the third round of Brexit talks hadn’t yielded “any decisive progress” on citizens’ rights or on the future role of the European Court of Justice.

The Times previously reported that Theresa May, the prime minister, could be willing to pay up to £50bn for leaving the EU, to be paid over a three-year period following Brexit. However, David Davis, Brexit secretary (above, left), said the story was “nonsense” and “completely wrong” in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

The £50bn announcement could be made in the fortnight after the Conservative Party conference, which ends on 4 October but before a European Council meeting on 19 October, when Barnier is expected to tell EU leaders if sufficient progress has been made for talks to progress to the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

In order to participate in the Framework programmes, the UK could also be asked to contribute to the EU structural funds, which support research capacity building in less developed member states, said Mike Galsworthy, programme director of the campaign group Scientists for EU.

The UK’s offers have so far failed to impress European research groups. “The UK is legally committed to honour its commitments to the EU budget, including those on research and innovation,” said Kurt Deketelaere, the secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities. “Not paying is not an option.”

The UK government is expected to note in its paper that Horizon 2020 already has non-EU participants including Israel, Norway and Switzerland.

However, to become an associate member, the UK must either become a member of the European Free Trade Association or be covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy—both of which require the UK to accept some EU laws. Any other scenario would need a change of regulation, Deketelaere said. He warned that there would probably not be enough time for the UK and EU to properly discuss research collaboration, if the first negotiation phase overruns.

According to Thomas Jørgensen, policy coordinator at the European University Association, the position paper could provide the UK government with an opportunity to hint that it would be willing to put in place an immigration system enabling researcher mobility. “It would be fantastic to have some concrete measures. ‘Settled status’ is not welcoming enough,” he said.

Peter Tindemans, the secretary-general of the European researchers’ organisation EuroScience, agreed. “If the UK were to say that it wants associate membership but wants to have a serious discussion on some aspects of immigration, there is flexibility in the other European countries to enter into really serious negotiations.”

The position paper on science follows a series of other documents. In one of them, the UK government proposed a committee of UK and EU legal experts to succeed the European Court of Justice as the body responsible for dispute resolutions. In another paper, the UK offered to mirror the EU’s data protection rules to avoid disruption in data sharing post-Brexit.­­­ 

This article also appeared in Research Fortnight