Access to the European Union’s flagship Horizon Europe science programme has been restored to the UK after years of political wrangling

UK scientists will have immediate access to the world’s largest research collaboration programme, Horizon Europe, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has secured a bespoke deal with improved financial terms for the UK’s participation.

UK researchers can now apply for grants and bid to take part in projects under the Horizon programme, with certainty that the UK will be participating as a fully associated member for the remaining life of the programme to 2027.

Once adopted, the UK will also be able to join the governance of EU programmes – which the UK has been excluded from over the last three years – and be able to lead consortia in the next work programme of Horizon Europe projects.

Horizon will give UK companies and research institutions unrivalled opportunities to lead global work to develop new technologies and research projects, in areas from health to artificial intelligence.

This will not only open up co-operation with the EU, but also Norway, New Zealand and Israel which are part of the programme – and countries like Korea and Canada which are also looking to join.






UK scientists were left in limbo when involvement in Horizon Europe fell victim to the drawn-out row over the Northern Ireland Protocol that was part of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

The UK had negotiated access to a range of EU science and innovation programmes, notably Horizon Europe and Copernicus, the Earth observation programme, which provides data on climate change, as well as Euratom, the nuclear research programme, and access to programme services including Space Surveillance and Tracking.

But amidst worsening diplomatic relations, by the summer of 2022, the EU had still to finalise UK access to these programmes which, according to London, had caused ‘serious damage to research and development in both the UK and EU member states’.

In his March 2023 budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt announced a welcome £3.5bn in funding for the UK’s beleaguered science community, but it was a reintroduction into Horizon Europe that scientists were most keen to see.

The new deal follows a call between Sunak and EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen on the 6th September after months of negotiation.


Foundation for prosperity


The Prime Minister said: “Innovation has long been the foundation for prosperity in the UK, from the breakthroughs improving healthcare to the technological advances growing our economy.

“With a wealth of expertise and experience to bring to the global stage, we have delivered a deal that enables UK scientists to confidently take part in the world’s largest research collaboration programme – Horizon Europe.

“We have worked with our EU partners to make sure that this is [the] right deal for the UK, unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers.”

He added: “New financial protections for the British taxpayer, especially in the first years of association when UK scientists’ participation will be recovering, ensures UK taxpayers will not pay for the time where UK researchers have been excluded from since 2021, with costs starting from January 2024 – delivering much better terms for 2023.

“This will also provide breathing space to boost the participation of UK researchers in open calls for grants before we start paying into the programme.

“The UK will have a new automatic clawback that protects the UK as participation recovers from the effects of the last two and a half years.

“It means the UK will be compensated should UK scientists receive significantly less money than the UK puts into the programme.

“This wasn’t the case under the original terms of association.”


Excellent deal


The UK will also associate with Copernicus, the European Earth Observation programme, which will provide the UK’s earth observation sector with access to unique data – valuable in helping with early flood and fire warnings, for example – and with the ability to bid for contracts, which they haven’t been able to access for three years.

However, in line with the preferences of the UK fusion sector, the UK has decided to pursue a domestic fusion energy strategy instead of associating with the EU’s Euratom programme.

This will involve close international collaboration, including with European partners, and a new, cutting-edge alternative programme, backed by up to £650m to 2027.

The UK Government believes this will ensure this spending will be in the UK’s best interests.

The new deal is set to create and support thousands of new jobs as part of the next generation of research talent.

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan said: “Today is a fantastic day for UK science and our whole economy.

“We have listened to the sector, and through hard work and negotiation, we have secured an excellent deal for researchers, taxpayers and businesses.

“The Horizon programme is unrivalled in its scope and opens up a world of opportunity for cooperation on science that delivers real-world benefits for the UK – creating jobs, boosting our economy and opening up collaboration for the sector with some of our closest partners, whether on tackling climate change or advancing cancer research.”

She added: “This deal is a crucial step forward on our mission to become a science and tech superpower by 2030.”

Providing a viewpoint from the academic sector, Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, president of Universities UK, said: “The entire research community, within our universities and beyond, will be delighted at the news that an agreement has been reached.

“Overcoming the obstacles to association was no small feat and we are grateful to the government and the commission for their perseverance to secure this successful outcome.

“Horizon Europe has been the basis of scientific collaboration for over 30 years.

“From early detection of ovarian cancer to developing clean energy networks involving dozens of universities and many industrial partners, Horizon lets us do things that would not be possible without that scale of collaboration.”

She concluded: “Allowing our scientists to work together, irrespective of borders, is in all of our interests.

“Our universities will now do everything possible to ensure the UK rapidly bounces back towards previous levels of participation and is able to secure genuine value, delivering the wealth of research opportunities available.”