The UK will allocate £ 6 billion to the Science Fund for Plan B if the EU blocks its association with Horizon

The UK plans to spend £ 6bn over three years on a new global science fund if the EU refuses to allow the country to participate in its Horizon Europe research program, a preferred option by the government.

George Freeman, science minister, told the FT he was working on a new international fund known in science policy as Plan B, still hoping that Brussels would give Britain associate membership in Horizon Europe, the main funding program. EU research and innovation budget with a budget of € 95 billion over seven years.

The British association with Horizon Europe was foreseen in the Brexit agreement of 2020, but has not yet taken place as a result of ongoing disagreements between the EU and the United Kingdom over Northern Ireland and other issues. Switzerland also remains closed for similar political reasons.

“Our position remains that we want to unite. We hope that perhaps after the elections in France and the resolution of various issues still under discussion around Brexit, the association will be possible, “said Freeman, who actively campaigned for” Stay “during the 2016 referendum.

He declined to say how long the UK would wait before abandoning Horizon, but said the government was actively formulating an alternative “consistent and ambitious plan for international science”. . . based on the elements of Horizon that researchers find most valuable: global scholarships, strong funding for industrial challenges, innovative missions around tomorrow’s technologies. “Beyond Horizon, we have the freedom to be more global,” he said.

Freeman said “scientific allies are being reached” outside the EU, including Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. As Switzerland also feels “very disappointed” with its exclusion from Horizon Europe so far, he will meet with Swiss Science Minister on Monday.

“One of the problems with Plan B is that we still don’t know what it will involve,” said Daniel Rathbone, head of policy at the Science and Engineering Campaign, a group of pressure from ordinary people. “With Horizon Europe, we know what we are getting and the deal is ready, if politics allows.

The pressure on Brussels to recognize the United Kingdom comes not only from British scientists, but also from their continental counterparts, who say failing to reach an agreement would harm European science as a whole.

“With the approach of Horizon Europe’s first grant agreements and the forthcoming new calls, the UK’s association must be finalized without further delay,” said hundreds of EU research and research organizations, Ursula. von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in a joint letter late last year.

James Wilsden, a professor of research policy at the University of Sheffield, said: “Uncertainty is already leading to a downward spiral in collaboration between scientists from the UK and the continent.

He agreed that the government should prepare a Plan B, but should be more open with UK researchers on what it can and cannot achieve. “We may be able to create a global grant program, but it will be extremely difficult to replicate the entire Horizon Europe collaboration structure,” Wilsden said.

Freeman’s appointment as science minister last September was warmly welcomed by most UK scholars, who praised his knowledge of the pre-parliamentary career by founding high-tech companies and then as life science minister in David Cameron’s coalition government.

Rathbone said Freeman still enjoys support from the research community. “He hit the ground,” he said. “He has a lot of ideas and enthusiasm for the sector and works with scientists.”

Although the autumn review of expenditures has reduced the growth of public funding for research and development to £ 20 billion in 2024-2025 from the £ 22 billion promised in 2020, researchers still expect a real increase in real terms of £ 14 billion. , 9 billion allocated this year.

In addition to Horizon Europe, another issue on Freeman’s ministerial board is the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria), which the government has set up with a £ 800 million budget to carry out high-risk high-risk research, modeled on modern US defense research. Project Agency (Darpa).

Aria was the personal enthusiasm of former Special Adviser to the Prime Minister Dominique Cummings, who left Downing Street 10 in November 2020, and some feared the project was losing momentum. But it was boosted last week when Peter Hainam, a highly respected computer scientist who is currently Darpa’s deputy director, agreed to become Aria’s first CEO for a five-year term beginning in May.

“When Peter Hainam, who for those unfamiliar with him is what science is about Alex Ferguson for football management, wants to become CEO of this exciting new agency, it is a great confirmation of our plans and ours. science, ”says Freeman. “We are now in the process of appointing a chairman to replace Peter.”

“We created Aria in a way that is free from Whitehall intervention and management,” Freeman added. “This is the best laboratory to attract the world’s best scientists to come and use our research infrastructure to answer the big questions facing the world in the 21st century.”

The chairman and CEO of Aria, along with a small group of program managers, will have the flexibility and power to select and pursue projects without interference, compared to their counterparts in UK Research and Innovation, the country’s main science funding agency.

Although ministers were criticized for exempting Aria from the freedom of information requirements that other public bodies are subject to, Freeman insisted: “This is public money and Aria will be accountable to parliament. . . But we want to be able to say to Peter Hynam: “You have the freedom to set up a living laboratory for exciting science of discovery here without the very common short-term constraints on funding and bureaucracy that dominate so much global research.”

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