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UK set to re-join Horizon science scheme

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Talks on the UK becoming a fully-fledged member of the EU’s €100bn (£85bn) programme again began after a deal was cut on post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland earlier this year.

The UK’s associate membership of Horizon was agreed in principle as part of the Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement, but the issue became bogged down in the dispute about the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The higher education sector is likely to give the news, first reported by Bloomberg, a big welcome.

Universities and researchers have repeatedly warned that the uncertainty over whether the UK would re-join was extremely damaging.

Sources within government have also indicated that the UK will re-join the EU’s space programme, Copernicus, but not its nuclear research scheme, Euratom.

Peter Kyle, the shadow science minister, said the country had “missed out on two years of innovation” whilst being outside of the Horizon programme.

Re-joining the scheme would allow the UK to start “unlocking all the potential we have in this country”, Mr Kyle said.

Ministers had drawn up a plan B, known as Pioneer, as an alternative.

The government always insisted it was deadly serious about the possibility of going it alone with the Pioneer programme, although it wasn’t their preferred option.

Figures within government have previously suggested that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was genuinely torn.

On the one hand, re-joining Horizon would help repair EU-UK relations and potentially play well with those who deeply disliked Brexit.

On the other hand, Mr Sunak was said to be keen to get “value for money” as well as build credibility with Leave supporters who might favour a clean break.

The UK had been expected to remain associated with the scheme after Brexit but it soon became apparent that Brussels was blocking Britain’s return.

That’s because the EU was angry at the government’s failure to fully implement a deal on post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Until that issue was resolved, it was clear that Horizon association would not be possible.

Then, in February, Rishi Sunak signed a deal with the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – the Windsor Framework.

That paved the way for talks on Horizon, which look as though they’re finally reaching their culmination.

It’s a further moment of reconciliation between the UK and the EU following the bitter disputes over Brexit that followed the 2016 Leave vote.

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