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Russell Group: Not confirming UK association to Horizon Europe is a ‘mistake’

Dr Tim Bradshaw, CEO of the Russell Group

Science and research could be the biggest losers from the impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol – they are ‘too important to be used as part of a negotiation’ the Russell Group has told the European Union.

In a letter to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, the group has said the decision not to confirm the UK’s full association to Horizon Europe until the discussions around the Northern Ireland Protocol have been resolved is a mistake. 

In the letter, Dr Tim Bradshaw, CEO of the Russell Group, said:

“Scientists cannot control the outcome of debates over the protocol. Yet science and the solutions it can provide to challenges like net zero and public health will be the ones that suffer.

“Russell Group universities have been major players in the European research programmes, particularly in the ‘Excellent Science’ schemes. Without the UK’s full association, the programme will become less competitive, with knock-on impacts for the excellence and prestige of EU grants.

“Association is therefore too important to be used as part of a negotiation and the current impasse shows this is having no leverage over the Northern Ireland protocol. Of course, there are serious political issues at play that must be resolved in a mutually beneficial way; however, you have the ability to ensure negotiations continue to take place while the UK participates in Horizon Europe.”

The Russell Group represents 24 of the most research-intensive universities in the UK have always performed strongly in the European Union’s Horizon initiative, which is the world’s largest multilateral research programme.  In Horizon 2020, Russell Group universities alone accounted for 21% of the grants signed from pillar 1, which promotes scientific excellence, winning more ERC and MSCA grants than the whole of France.   

The letter which was sent on 19 July and has been published today (21 July) comes as the UK Government sets out its plans for an alternative Plan B alternative to Horizon Europe, which it will implement if British membership to the programme cannot be agreed. 

Dr Bradshaw added:

“The Government has made clear that full association remains its top priority, however the publication of these plans mean walking away from Horizon has become a step closer, and the time left to resolve this is growing short.”

Read the letter here.

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