'Baffled' UK Scientists Urge Rishi Sunak to Strike Horizon Deal

Published on July 13, 2023

Dr Mike Galsworthy, Chair of European Movement UK, studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, before completing a PhD in Behaviour Genetics at King's College London. He is an expert on EU science policy and has written academic papers analysing EU science programmes.

"You would have thought that on finally announcing the Windsor Framework after over two years, the government would have had an idea about what to do next on Horizon. Yet Rishi Sunak has been standing like a startled schoolboy in front of a well-lit open goal for nineteen weeks and counting. In the meantime, New Zealand have scored a magnificent goal by their association with Horizon Europe, becoming another one of more than a dozen countries outside the EU to sign up to full partnership on this truly global programme.

The UK used not just to participate in Horizon, but to lead, putting us in more coordinator roles of the multinational projects than any other country. And Rishi Sunak seems still puzzled whether to score that goal or turn around and go for a self-declared “Plan B” option that the UK science community ridicules. It is losing the UK science community opportunities and funds hand-over-fist for every week that this inexplicable paralysis goes on.”

Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal:

"We cannot waste any more time - New Zealand are now on board and we should be too. Sunak may think he's securing greater value via protracted negotiations, but prolonging the delay leads to further missed opportunities and will make it harder for UK science to restore its standing and its collaborations."

Prof Martin McKee - Professor of European Public Health & Medical Director, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine:

“Scientists are baffled by the length of time it is taking Rishi Sunak to sign up to Horizon Europe. The benefits are obvious, at least to the global scientific community. We have just seen New Zealand enthusiastically seize the opportunity to join. Yet this indecision is sending out a clear message that he just doesn’t see British science as a priority. It also inflicts even more damage than has been done already by prolonging the uncertainty for the many scientists contemplating the greater opportunities elsewhere.”

Professor Dame Anne Glover – President, Royal Society of Edinburgh:

“It is a priority for the UK’s future sustainability that Rishi Sunak finalises our accession to Horizon Europe without delay. Any further uncertainty undermines our scientific community and we are in danger of fiddling whilst Rome burns.”

Dr Mike Galsworthy writes:

Being on the outside of Horizon Europe for 2.5 years has done huge damage to our scientific and research community. As well as missing out on millions in funding, the reputational damage is incalculable.

During this time, many UK scientists no longer had the chance to work with world-leading partners from all over Europe and beyond, on cutting edge projects to find new cancer treatments, clean up our water networks, tackle climate change and much more. It put the UK’s status as a global scientific leader under threat.

We’ve consistently been calling for the government to stop stalling and find a way back into the EU-wide funding and collaboration scheme – so that we can start to rebuild links with our EU neighbours, and prevent UK scientists from being hamstrung by our hard Brexit.

It’s not just the European Movement saying this. Scientists, universities and research institutes across the country have been imploring Rishi Sunak to resolve the impasse over Horizon Europe. 

I know first-hand the unique value to our scientists of these collaborative frameworks. I’ve worked on amazing multinational projects funded by Horizon Europe, with pooled science funds into a single vast pot to support discovery at scale. It’s uniquely powerful in the global science landscape. It pains me to think about the disappearance of potential funding streams for groundbreaking projects, the barriers to collaboration, and the lost opportunities.

Dr Mike Galsworthy

Chair, European Movement UK

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