Rishi Sunak Warned UK Can't "Recreate" Benefit Of EU Science Innovation Scheme Alone
Rishi Sunak has been urged to take the UK back into the EU's Horizon scheme (Alamy)
Business leaders across a range of sectors have called on Rishi Sunak to take the UK back into Horizon, the European Union's scientific research and innovation funding scheme, as part of his bid to build a post-Brexit relationship with the bloc.
A letter to Sunak signed by over 30 leading business figures, seen by PoliticsHome, argues that participating in Horizon – which the UK left as part of Brexit – would deliver results which "the UK alone could not", and urges the government to prioritise becoming associate members "without delay".
They suggest the Prime Minister should capitalise on the recent improvement in UK-EU relations in order to secure associate membership to the programme, which would put him in a stronger position to deliver his mission of turning the country into a science "superpower".
But Sunak is believed to be wary about signing up to Horizon due to concern over cost, PoliticsHome understands.
Long-standing hopes within the tech and science community that the UK would become re-integrated with Horizon received a major boost when the government and the European Commission signed the post-Brexit Windsor framework for Northern Ireland.
Speaking at a press conference in Windsor to confirm the agreement in February, European Commission Vice President Ursula von der Leyen said the diplomatic breakthrough paved the way for negotiations about potential associate membership for the UK "immediately".
Matthew Fell, interim director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), wrote to the PM following last month's Budget urging him to take the UK back into the programme.
The benefits of Horizon access for the UK would "go far beyond funding", wrote Fell, who in his letter to Sunak said it would have advantages like bolstering research capabilities, enhancing data sharing and making it easier for universities to recruit "top talent" from abroad.
The letter is signed by the heads of over a dozen trade associations including Tech UK, the National Farmers Union, Chemicals Industries Association and Logistics UK, plus members of the CBI's innovation council like senior representatives of AirBus, EDF and Imagination Technologies.
It reads: "At our annual conference last year, firms welcomed the vision you set out – a government delivering a growth agenda through skills, innovation and investment in science.
"Horizon Europe does these things in a way the UK alone could not.
"Therefore, as members of the CBI’s Innovation Council and Member Sector Trade Associations we ask that the government continues to prioritise association without delay."
The letter warns that a new UK alternative, which the PM is believed to be considering as an option, "could not recreate" the "wide-ranging benefits" of being part of the EU programme.
"For this reason, the business community hopes agreement on the Windsor framework can catalyse association to Horizon Europe," it reads.
Conservative MP Greg Clark, Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said the letter demonstrates how "the benefits of association go beyond the funding the government can provide, and what we would be losing out on if the delay continues".
He told PoliticsHome: "I have urged the European Commission and the UK government to advance and conclude the negotiations as soon as possible. My Committee has pressed for answers and is waiting for the government to respond to our questions on the status of the discussions, the UK's position on the terms of association and the negotiation timetable."
The letter represents the latest call on Sunak to take the UK back into Horizon.
BusinessLDN and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership last month urged the PM to act "as swiftly as possible" to "ensure the UK remains at the cutting-edge of research and development”, The Financial Times reported.
A UK government spokesperson said: “Both the UK and the EU have been clear that we are open to taking forward discussions on UK association to EU Programmes.
“We look forward to meeting the EU shortly to discuss future scientific research collaboration, including Horizon Europe association."
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