Rishi Sunak has enraged British scientists after thwarting hopes of joining the EU’s Horizon programme.
Prospects of rejoining the €96bn research scheme had grown after a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland was struck on Monday. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, described the agreement as “good news” for scientists and researchers. She said work to associate the UK with Horizon could begin “immediately” after implementing the terms.
Scientists were overwhelmingly pleased with the breakthrough. Sir Adrian Smith, president of the Royal Society, the UK’s foremost collective of scientific voices, called for rapid access to Horizon.
“These programs support excellent international collaboration, and the sooner we join, 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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This optimism quickly faded. According to a new report in the Financial Times, Prime Minister Sunak is “skeptical” about the benefits and costs of Horizon. Officials said Sunak will look at other options, including a new global research collaboration.
The news sparked anger among scientists.
“This is unspeakably idiotic.
As the world’s largest research program, Horizon has been praised for improving collaboration, research standards and supply chains for businesses – all of which are now at risk for the UK. Scientists fear a sequel absence of the scheme will result in UK R&D falling behind globally.
Dr. Mike Galsworthy, a researcher and campaigner described Sunak’s plan as “unspeakably idiot.”
“To be a scientific superpower or anything close to it, we should rejoin Horizon enthusiastically… and *then* invest in conferences, meetings and new mechanisms to quickly re-establish the UK as a 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 previously pledged to join Horizon.
“No Plan B can match Horizon Europe in funding, impact or scope,” she said. “Breaking this promise would be a huge failure for Sunak.”
The British knowledge organization for science and business with Horizon Europe is in the interest of the country. Tory 2019 Manifesto promised to achieve it. No Plan B can match Horizon Europe in funding, impact or scope. Breaking this promise would be a huge failure for Sunak. https://t.co/guc7TTfkNL
— Chi Onwurah 💙 (@ChiOnwurah) March 2, 2023
A debate rages on Sunak’s motivations. Some observers suspect him wants to do genome research which the EU would consider unethical, while others claim his postponement is merely a negotiating ploy.
Regardless of his tactics, researchers want a speedy return to Horizon – before the UK’s international standing is further damaged