The U.K. has reached a deal to join the E.U.’s landmark Horizon research initiative, a move that will allow British scientists and companies to win funding from and collaborate with their European peers in the $100 billion program.
Researchers and business groups have been calling for such a deal for months, warning that without membership, the U.K. risked being left behind even as it aspires to cement itself as a scientific and technology powerhouse. Research institutions widely celebrated the news that a deal had been struck.
In announcing the agreement Thursday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said U.K. scientists could immediately start applying for funding from the program.
“Innovation has long been the foundation for prosperity in the UK, from the breakthroughs improving healthcare to the technological advances growing our economy,” Sunak said in a statement. “With a wealth of expertise and experience to bring to the global stage, we have delivered a deal that enables U.K. scientists to confidently take part in the world’s largest research collaboration program.”
The U.K. was meant to become an associate member of Horizon — a status reserved for non-E.U. countries — in 2020 even after leaving the E.U., but it was blocked from participating as the U.K. and E.U. negotiated post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland. That issue was resolved in February, but discussions about the U.K. entering Horizon dragged on over how much the U.K. would contribute to and receive from the program, particularly for the years during which it was excluded.
Under the deal, the U.K. doesn’t have to pay for the time it was kept out of the program.
Business groups argued that joining Horizon was essential for attracting investment in the U.K., which — like many European countries — is seeking to build up its life sciences industry. Researchers said they were vulnerable to losing scientists to other countries if they couldn’t access Horizon funding in the U.K. European researchers and business groups also urged that a deal be reached and the U.K. be included in Horizon.
“I am thrilled to finally see that partnerships with E.U. scientists can continue,” Paul Nurse, the CEO of the Francis Crick Institute, said in a statement. “This is an essential step in re-building and strengthening our global scientific standing.”
The Horizon program has a budget of 95.5 billion Euros to fund projects through 2027 tied to climate change, biomedical research, AI, and a host of other scientific and technical endeavors, bringing in both companies and academic researchers.