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UK Horizon homecoming is a masterstroke for science

Brett Morton
November 10, 2023

The Government’s bespoke agreement to re-enter the Horizon program marks a significant milestone not only for Britain’s science industry but also for its political landscape. This achievement transcends mere research collaboration; it stands as a testament to post-Brexit Britain’s capacity to forge pragmatic, cooperative ties with the European Union on essential matters, demonstrating that collaboration on a grand scale is indeed possible without the bindings of permanent membership.

In early September the Prime Minister announced the UK would join the Horizon Europe Research Collaboration Programme under a new ‘bespoke’ agreement which he described as the ‘right deal for the country’.

An initial Horizon agreement was executed in 2020, but like many other things became bogged down in the Northern Ireland logjam. However, following three months of back-room negotiations, £81 billion in grants are now accessible again to UK scientists, in addition to the possibility of collaborating with scientific counterparts abroad.

In spite of that, and perhaps expectedly of the chaos that is UK politics, the Horizon deal has spurred on another mind-numbing Brexit dispute.

Avid Brexit supporters, mainly conservative backbenchers, have argued that this is another betrayal of the Brexit vote as it hands back power to Brussels. On the other hand, hardline Remainers have offered the Horizon deal as concrete evidence that the UK should re-join the European Union as it was pre-2016.

Amongst the political class, universal support for the Horizon deal is few and far between.

It is frustrating that the discourse surrounding the EU, among politicians and political commentators, often echoes the relentless fervour of referendum campaigning. It’s high time we adopt a more pragmatic approach and move forward constructively. The era of endless debate and rehashing of old arguments must give way to practical actions and long-term decision making.

The argument for sustaining Britain’s membership of the programme beyond Brexit was always compelling. This is irrespective of your ideological stance on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

Horizon is the largest research club in the world. Pooling vast amounts of resources for scientific collaboration from over 30 states, both inside and outside of the EU.

Professor Paul Stewart, Acting President at the Academy of Medical Science, said: “By associating to Horizon Europe, we now have the commitment and momentum to drive forward the Government’s vision for an innovative, high growth future and are well placed to support the diverse and highly skilled research talent that underpins our life sciences sector.”

Rejoining Horizon will unleash a flood of investment and golden opportunities for the UK. Combine our sensational research universities, science parks and long-term supply-side government support with the new Horizon deal - you will quickly uncover that the UK has the financial and physical infrastructure in place to become a science superpower to incentivise growth and solve the long-lasting productivity crisis.

The Horizon deal demonstrates that the way forward is to collaborate with the bloc when it makes sense to do so. We can achieve more by working together than on our own on issues that require it.

This landmark deal stands as a testament to the pragmatic approach and political courage embodied in the Windsor Framework. The UK’s forthright and honest negotiations were pivotal in persuading the EU to engage in open discussions and consider nuanced aspects of the agreement, such as the opt-out option for Euratom and the implementation of a claw-back mechanism.

This landmark deal stands as a testament to the pragmatic approach and political courage embodied in the Windsor Framework Quote

This shows that Rishi Sunak’s government’s expedient negotiations are regaining the blocs trust, something that did not exist under the previous Johnson premiership.

However, it should not be used as justification for rejoining the EU.

17 million people in the UK voted for a drastic transformation of our relationship with Europe. Ultimately, they wanted the choice to work with Europe or go in our own direction. Horizon proves that both can be done.

We must not be afraid to take our own unique approach at times, as seen by the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout compared to that of the European Union.

But there will inevitably be areas where a combined effort is entirely beneficial to Britain. Post COVID-19, the world is facing vast challenges, and we cannot manage them all on our own. It is imperative we work together in tandem otherwise we risk being left behind or isolated. That would not be ‘Global Britain’ at its finest.

Now, we have the freedom to decide when we engage with our European partners or go our own way.

A new era of pragmatism appears to be on the horizon. There is hope that this reimagined form of British diplomacy continues.

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Brett Morton is a Political and Media Consultant at Bridgehead Communications.

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