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Optimism despite “rollercoaster” Horizon decision

“Don’t despair” – that was the message from Universities UK chief executive Vivienne Stern to the sector regarding the UK government’s further delayed Horizon Europe decision.

UUK's chief executive Vivienne Stern addressed EU embassy representatives. Photo: The PIE

Researchers are sceptical of the UK government's 'plan B'

Stern described the UK government’s ongoing deliberation of associating to Horizon Europe as a “rollercoaster” while speaking at Embassy Magazine’s Education conference held in London, on July 19.

Recent reports indicated a draft deal had been agreed upon between the UK government and EU negotiators, and some expecting that UK prime minister Rishi Sunak would confirm the agreement in a much-anticipated meeting with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen during the NATO summit on July 11–12.

Despite the pair meeting, no deal was announced.

However, Stern remains “optimistic”.

Science is key to the UK’s foreign policy doctrine and the country’s contribution to scientific leadership is “central” to the way it wants to position itself in the world, she suggested. She added that she believes it is something the UK government is prepared to invest in.

“I would still say – with all of the frustration I feel that we haven’t done this deal yet – it is astonishing that in an era where UK public finances have been under such pressure and we know there are no votes in associating to Horizon Europe, that successive leaders of the government have committed and recommitted to doing that deal,” she said.

“It’s going to cost a lot of money. They won’t get a lot of recognition from a lot of people for it. They understand however it’s the right thing for us and the right thing for the global scientific community.

“It is in all our interests we do this deal,” said Stern.

“Our government doesn’t want to sign the deal on the current terms. Press for something that will allow our government to claim they got a good deal,” she urged the London-based EU embassy representatives in the audience.

“It is in all our interests we do this deal”

“Tell your principles, tell your governments, be flexible or we might bloody lose it.”

On his way to the NATO summit, Sunak told reporters that although it is the government’s “preference” to associate to Horizon, it must be done on “terms that work for the UK and are in the UK’s best interests”.

“Those conversations are ongoing and it is important that we give those conversations the time to conclude. There’s no point in doing something that it is not in the interests of British taxpayers or British researchers and scientists,” Sunak added at the time.

Stern previously highlighted UUK’s involvement in the development of Pioneer – the government’s back-up plan to continue funding UK research and development should a deal not be reached – but admitted that researchers were sceptical, and agreed that it wasn’t as good as “plan A”.

“It’s complicated, but we all need this deal to be done,” said Stern.

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