Rishi Sunak has enraged British scientists after dampening hopes of a re-entry into the EU’s Horizon programme.
Prospects of re-entering the €96 billion research program had increased after a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland was struck on Monday. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described the agreement as “good news” for scientists and researchers. She said work on associating the UK with Horizon could start “immediately” after the terms were implemented.
Scientists had welcomed the breakthrough with an overwhelming majority. Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society, Britain’s leading collective of scientific voices, called for access to Horizon to be secured quickly.
“These programs support excellent international collaboration and the sooner we join them the better for everyone,” Smith said in a statement. “The Government has stated that the UK is more committed than ever to strong research collaboration with our European partners.”
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That optimism quickly evaporated. Prime Minister Sunak is “skeptical” about the benefits and costs of Horizon, according to a new Financial Times report. Officials said Sunak will explore other options, including a new global research collaboration.
The news sparked fury among scientists.
“This is incredibly idiotic.
As the world’s largest research program, Horizon has been lauded for improving collaboration, research standards and business supply chains – all of which are now at risk for the UK. Scientists fear that a sequel The absence of the program will see UK R&D lag behind globally.
dr Mike Galsworthy, a researcher and activist, described Sunak’s plan as “unspeakably idiotic.”
“To be a scientific superpower or anything close, we need to enthusiastically rejoin Horizon… and *then* invest in conferences, meetings and new mechanisms to quickly re-establish Britain as the European team leader,” Galsworth said in a tweet. “So WHAT is Rishi Sunak playing?”
Opposition politicians have also criticized the intervention. Chi Onwurah, a shadow science minister and former engineer, noted that the ruling Conservative Party had previously promised to merge with Horizon.
“No Plan B can match Horizon Europe in terms of funding, impact or reach,” she said. “Breaking that promise would be a massive Sunak mistake.”
The British science and business association w Horizon Europe is in the best interests of the country. Tory’s 2019 manifesto promised to do this. No Plan B can match Horizon Europe in terms of funding, impact or reach. Breaking that promise would be a massive failure by Sunak. https://t.co/guc7TTfkNL
— Chi Onwurah 💙 (@ChiOnwurah) March 2, 2023
There is a heated debate about Sunak’s motives. Some observers suspect he wants to pursue genome research, which the EU would consider unethical, while others argue his stalling is just a negotiating ploy.
Whatever his tactics, researchers want a speedy return to Horizon – before further damaging Britain’s international standing