The British Academy has urged the new chancellor of the Exchequer set out how the government will provide short-term support for research if the UK crashes out of Horizon Europe.
The UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences said the autumn budget should set out ringfenced and committed multi-year funding for Horizon association or “replacement programmes”. The academy said its letter should “underscore…the urgency of the situation”.
Association with the €95.5 billion research scheme has been held-up in political deadlock over tensions with the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol. The impasse has already led the European Research Council to cancel 115 grants to UK-based scholars.
The letter dated 11 July follows the announcement that Boris Johnson’s tenure as prime minister will end by 5 September, leaving his administration – which remains only partially staffed – to act as a caretaker government through the summer.
Professor Julia Black, president of the academy, urged Nadhim Zahawi – and his cabinet colleague Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary of state at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – set out plans before the summer recess, which begins on 21 July 2022.
The academy said plans should include “full support for third country participation to Horizon Europe, and an extension of the current Horizon Europe guarantee implemented by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) to at least the end of June 2023”.
Prof Black also urged cabinet colleagues to discuss long-term proposals for a UK alternative to Horizon membership without delay, offering researchers a chance to shape “major new programmes”.
Greg Hands, minister for business, energy and clean growth, told MPs on 12 July the UK government is “absolutely committed to getting a good deal for UK science” through association or a British equivalent plan B.
“We are providing the fastest ever sustained uplift in R&D funding, reaching £20bn per annum by 2024/25,” said Hands. “If association to Horizon Europe is not possible in good time to make the most of that programme, we will take forward a bold and ambitious package of UK alternatives. ”
As of 12 July, Johnson has yet to appoint a science and research minister or a higher and further education minister – the two lynchpin roles for universities in government. Despite offering a return to the role he quit last week, former science minister George Freeman tweeted on 11 July that the offer had been “declined”. It was announced on 12 July that the BEIS secretary will temporarily assume the science responsibilities.
Zahawi is a contender for the leadership of the Conservative party – but has attracted less support than Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt.
“We cannot underscore enough the urgency of the situation,” wrote Professor Black, adding that the academy would “strongly support the government’s priority to associate to Horizon Europe as soon as possible and encourage you to continue to pursue this goal”.
In parliament on 12 July, shadow minister Chi Onwurah said: “Despite being critical to our world-beating research and a Conservative manifesto commitment, Britain’s participation in the world’s biggest science funding programme, Horizon Europe, is in peril. Before resigning, the then science minister, took to Twitter to lobby the new chancellor for funding for his Plan B, but the chancellor was busy trying to get the prime minister he had just accepted a job from to leave his job.”
The PM was “too busy… to fill the science job” she said, adding: “Science deserves better”.