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U.K. rejoins Horizon R&D after Brexit impasse

The U.K. will rejoin the EU’s top science R&D funding program after a long absence due to Brexit.

The European Commission (EC) and the U.K. called the news a “landmark moment” for scientific collaboration between the two countries, although they did not mention their two-year-old alliance.

Horizon Europe, a seven-year EU-wide innovation and collaboration program, replaces Horizon 2020, which the U.K. participated in. Horizon primarily targeted EU countries, but it now partners with almost a dozen associated member countries, including Ukraine, Armenia, Israel, and New Zealand.

The U.K. consented to associate participation in Horizon after leaving the EU in January 2020. The European Commission (EC) suspended the U.K.’s Horizon participation the next year due to trade disputes over the Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the Brexit divorce deal.

Thousands of EU universities, academies of science, and rectors’ organisations sent the EC a united declaration in November 2021 requesting the U.K.’s swift readmission to Horizon Europe.

“We have a long history of close and trusted collaboration and shared success with the U.K.,” they wrote. The strength of those connections has benefited good research, resulting in many collaborations to tackle some of the world’s most serious concerns, enhancing competitiveness and growth.”

When the U.K. returns to Horizon, the standoff will have lasted almost two years despite pressure from numerous parties. The U.K. will rejoin the program and the Copernicus Earth observation satellite program on January 1, 2024, for €2.6 billion ($2.8 billion) per year. This will continue through Horizon Europe’s 2027 deadline.

Dom Hallas, Executive Director of the non-profit Startup Coalition, praised Horizon for its impact on the U.K. startup scene.

“Tech innovation and research crosses borders every day, so it’s obviously good for British and European policy to do the same,” he told .

Any legal entity from member nations can apply for Horizon Europe funding, which is €96 billion ($102 billion), 35% of which is for climate research.

The program aims to increase jobs, economic growth, and “industrial competitiveness.” The fund allocates 70% of its SME budget to breakthrough ideas “that may be too risky for private investors.”

This could benefit university spinouts doing early-stage R&D, where a prototype or commercial product may be years away. The UK, a key contributor to AI, quantum computing, and biotech R&D, may benefit from public financing by reassuring private investors, producing a snowball effect.

Ekaterina Almasque, general partner at early-stage VC firm OpenOcean, which includes Oxford University as a limited partner, said today’s news will assist the U.K. and European IT economy.

“This renewed commitment to Horizon is not only a positive for the spinout ecosystem, but also bolsters the entire tech sector, making it more attractive to investors to back the next market leader,” Almasque told . Research and development underpins the U.K. IT economy, and uncertainty would have damaged confidence. In sectors like quantum technology, where advancement takes decades, a defined financing trajectory is essential to ensure innovation.”

Today’s declaration is a “agreement in principle,” therefore EU committees and councils must approve it. This is expected before the U.K.’s early 2024 official readmission.

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