The UK Government has entered what could be the final push to remain involved in the EU’s Horizon Europe science funding programme with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss describing co-operation on the issue as “vital”.

Launching what is termed ‘formal consultations’, a mechanism set out in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) to resolve disputes between the UK and EU, London has called for an effort to ‘end persistent delays to the UK’s access to EU scientific research programmes, including Horizon Europe’.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (pictured), currently battling with former chancellor Rishi Sunak to become the UK’s next prime minister, said: “The EU is in clear breach of our agreement, repeatedly seeking to politicise vital scientific cooperation by refusing to finalise access to these important programmes. We cannot allow this to continue. That is why the UK has now launched formal consultations and will do everything necessary to protect the scientific community.”

The UK negotiated access to a range of EU science and innovation programmes as part of the TCA in 2020. However, more than 18 months later, the EU has still refused to finalise UK access, causing serious damage to research and development in both the UK and EU member states.

London argues the delays have prevented the UK from accessing Horizon Europe, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation, as well as Copernicus, the Earth observation programme, which provides data on climate change. Other affected schemes include Euratom – the nuclear research programme – and access to programme services including Space Surveillance and Tracking.

Minister for Europe Graham Stuart added: “It is disappointing that the EU has not facilitated UK participation in the agreed scientific programmes, despite extensive UK engagement on the issue. Now more than ever the UK and the EU should be working together to tackle our shared challenges from net zero to global health and energy security. We look forward to constructive engagement through the formal consultations.”

UK membership of Horizon Europe would be a win-win for both the UK and EU. The UK is a world leader in science and technology, houses some of the most research-intensive universities in the world and led the global effort to combat COVID-19. The UK has set aside around £15 billion for Horizon Europe alone.

But the EU, and Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič in particular, have highlighted the UK’s decision to potentially unilaterally disregarded the Northern Ireland Protocol as the reason for the delays.

In readiness for today’s letter, the UK Government announced a ‘Plan B’ last month should the final push for inclusion fail.