The science Brexit

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The United Kingdom is on the verge of the European Union’s collaborative scientific research programme, Horizon Europe.

The Wellcome Trust’s director, Sir Jeremy Farr, has previously described Horizon Europe as “the world’s biggest international science funding programme”. The scheme has a budget of almost €100 billion (around £80 billion), providing grants and funding for scientific researchers across EU nations and other associated countries such as Norway.

Horizon Europe aims to bring together scientists in academia and industry to tackle pressing global issues – social and scientific. These range from climate change and disease elimination. The programme runs from 2021 to 2027.

The UK science minister, George Freeman, said in a speech in Brussels on 8th June that “we are reaching a crunch point”. It is also looking very unlikely that negotiations between the UK and EU will reach a positive resolution.

On the same day, some UK researchers who have been awarded Horizon Europe funding were told that their grant offers would be cancelled if the UK does not formalise its relationship with Horizon Europe.

“The world’s biggest international science funding programme”

sir jeremy farr

The UK government said that should the country leave Horizon Europe, the UK would develop its own £15 billion research programme. The government would also fund all Horizon Europe-funded projects until the end of 2022 if an agreement is not reached. Call this an alternative, a ‘Plan B’ if you will, but it crucially lacks the collaborative incentive of Horizon Europe.

The programme is now also being considered by other countries outside the EU, such as Japan, South Korea, and Canada. This would bring about important global collaborations where researchers can share expertise. Nobel laureate and chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute, Paul Nurse, previously expressed how “If the UK is to remain a serious scientific player after Brexit, we need to be a part of Horizon Europe.”

In early June, a joint letter from 140 UK universities to the European Commission pleads for scientific collaboration to not be sacrificed for “unrelated political disputes”. A science policy researcher aptly describes the situation as science being used as a ‘bargaining chip’. Indeed, the head of the Wellcome Trust’s policy lab, Martin Smith, is not optimistic about the outcome of the negotiation. He expresses his concern, saying “Science could become a victim of a wider dispute that it has nothing to do with.”

It is incredibly unfortunate that politics has come in and wedged itself within potentially life-saving and world-changing scientific research.

Image: CDC via Unsplash

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