The Government has written to the European Commission to “end persistent delays” to the UK’s access to EU scientific research programmes, including Horizon Europe, following Brexit.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the EU “is in clear breach of our agreement, repeatedly seeking to politicise vital scientific co-operation by refusing to finalise access to these important programmes”.
She added: “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.”
Labour accused the Tories of “starting rows with the EU to appeal to their Tory base”, as Ms Truss faces Rishi Sunak in the leadership contest to replace Boris Johnson in No 10.
Liz Truss Paul Campbell
Eighteen months after the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), ministers have opted to launch dispute resolution proceedings to “encourage the EU to abide by their obligations in the deal”, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said.
Formal consultations is a mechanism set out in the UK-EU TCA to resolve disputes between the UK and EU.
The UK negotiated access to a “range of EU science and innovation programmes” as part of the TCA in 2020, the FCDO said, adding the EU “has still refused to finalise UK access, causing serious damage to research and development in both the UK and EU member states”.
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”, the FCDO added.
Liz Truss during a hustings event in Perth, Scotland Jane Barlow
Other affected schemes include the nuclear research programme Euratom, and programme services including Space Surveillance and Tracking.
Europe minister Graham Stuart said: “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”.
Earlier this month, a cross-party group of peers on the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee concluded in a report that the Government’s international science policy “has been somewhat incoherent”.
It warned: “Association with Horizon Europe has not been secured, which risks harming the UK’s reputation further and jeopardising the quality of its science base.”
European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie said: “The commission takes note of the UK’s request for consultation and will follow up on this in line with the applicable rules, as set out in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.”
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, said: “Both the EU and the UK need to show more flexibility, but the Conservatives’ reckless and law-breaking approach to the protocol is helping to prevent Britain gaining membership of Europe’s £80 billion Horizon scheme that funds vital scientific innovation and research.
“Instead of continuing the pattern of starting rows with the EU to appeal to their Tory base, the next Prime Minister should sit down with all parties to ease the tensions and find agreement in the national interest.”
It comes after the EU launched legal action against the UK for failing to comply with the Northern Ireland Protocol, and as the Government brings legislation threatening to override the post-Brexit agreement.