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Sunak ‘concerned’ over price tag of rejoining EU science research scheme

The Prime Minister is seeking ‘value for money’ and is still considering a UK-based alternative to the collaboration scheme, said No 10.

Rishi Sunak remains concerned over the price of rejoining the EU’s Horizon Europe scientific research programme as he considers a draft deal.

The Prime Minister is seeking “value for money” and is still considering a UK-based alternative to the collaboration scheme known as Pioneer, Downing Street said on Thursday.

No 10 was insisting a “deal has not been agreed” but sources have said that a draft text produced after months of negotiations is with Mr Sunak.

The UK was excluded from the £85 billion scheme in a tit-for-tat retaliation over post-Brexit trading rules for Northern Ireland in 2020.

Tough negotiations have considered the price-tag of rejoining, with British researchers having lost out on two years of the programme.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said talks had been “constructive … but we continue to explore all options including a UK-based option, which is the Pioneer alternative”.

That “plan B” option would take the money earmarked for the UK’s participation in the Horizon scheme and invest it in UK science, research, technology and innovation.

The spokesman said exclusion from the programme had “an impact on the participation rates for UK scientists” that had been agreed under the trade deal with Brussels.

“So it’s right that we address that in any solution,” he said.

“It doesn’t just affect the past two years but also the future value that the UK will get from these programmes and the UK would be a net contributor to a Horizon programme if a decision was made to take that approach.

“Those are issues that we are discussing with the EU and we will consider the next steps.”

“Overall we want to make sure that any deal whether it’s the Horizon or the UK alternative Pioneer is the one that produces the best value for UK science and research and also for taxpayers.”

Downing Street was not commenting on whether Mr Sunak has received the draft Horizon deal.

But one Whitehall source told the PA news agency on Wednesday it was with the Prime Minister.

“The EU have moved a little on the money but not nearly as much as the PM wants,” they said.

Sources did however downplay the prospect of the deal being signed with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Lithuania next week.

Mr Sunak is due to meet her along with other world leaders at the Nato conference in Vilnius on Tuesday.

Sir Paul Nurse – stock
Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute (Nick Ansell/PA)

Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute, was among the scientists welcoming signs a deal was edging closer to fruition.

He wrote in The Times: “Negotiations have been bogged down in accounting details, losing sight of the vision and the prize to be won.

“I encourage the Prime Minister to finalise the agreement without further delay and recommend that working scientists be asked to help get this over the line.

“UK science has been burning like Rome as Nero fiddles, but this is our opportunity to stem further damage and rebuild as a science superpower.”

Horizon is a collaboration involving Europe’s leading research institutes and technology companies.

EU member states contribute funds, which are then allocated to individuals or organisations on merit.

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