Lord Frost gives update on UK’s participation in Horizon Europe

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Ahead of the tenth hustings for the Tory leadership race, the former Chancellor has vowed to create a “better UK alternative” to Horizon Europe, the EU’s flagship £80billion innovation programme. This programme, which the UK had negotiated to be a part of post-Brexit, offers researchers prestigious grants and access to increased collaboration between teams across the continent.

However, the EU has withheld the UK’s membership over Brexit disputes in North Ireland, stranding 140 UK-based researchers who qualified for grants.

The bloc has warned that the funds will not be delivered until the Northern Ireland protocol dispute is resolved, and even told the UK researchers to migrate to affiliate countries in order to access the grants.

Mr Sunak slammed the EU for “playing politics” and holding the researchers hostage, vowing to take the £15billion that the UK was supposed to put into Horizon, and create a “better UK alternative”.

His allies noted that if elected as Prime Minister, Mr Sunak would continue to push for the UK’s return to Horizon, but was willing to walk away from “EU politicking”.

Mr Sunak also said he would “turbocharge clinical innovation” by making the UK’s approval system for clinical trials easier to navigate.

Another proposal put forward would encourage local councils to use empty commercial and industrial space for laboratories.

Mr Sunak said: “My plan will secure our status as a science and technology superpower, providing opportunity and spreading prosperity in every part of our United Kingdom.”

This comes as the UK finally blew its top and launched legal action against the EU for blocking Britain’s membership into Horizon Europe.

The Government is understood to be ready to trigger “formal consultations” – a mechanism under the TCA that is used to resolve disputes – as soon as this week, according to two people familiar with the government’s plans.

This could be a huge relief for UK-based researchers whose grants are being held hostage, and for whom Charlotte Rosher, a neuroscientist from Bristol but lives in Lisbon, is “heartbroken”.

That is because while Horizon Europe funds remain frozen for UK-based researchers, scientists in Lisbon are free to access the money as Portugal is not wrapped up in the political dispute.

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Ms Rosher told The Times: “Some of that money has been redirected to somebody I know from here as the result of it being removed from research teams in the UK. It’s just so sad.”

It came as the UK announced a Plan B to Horizon, formulated by previous Science Minister George Freeman before his resignation.

The plan does still stress that Horizon membership is the preferred option, but as the Commission is still blocking this, the plan sets out an alternative vision for science.

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