Wirral MP urges UK government to secure research funding agreement with EU

Margaret Greenwood, the MP for Wirral West, has pressed the government on its progress in coming to an agreement with the European Union over association to their Horizon Europe programme. 

Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation. Running until 2027, it has a budget of €95.5 billion which will be used to fund research in five mission areas which are:  

  • adaptation to climate change 
  • healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters 
  • cancer 
  • soil health and food 
  • climate-neutral and smart cities  

Countries that are not part of the EU, but that are classed by the EU as an ‘associated country’ can participate in Horizon Europe and access funding through it. However, the future is unclear where the UK’s association with Horizon Europe is concerned. 

Talks have been taking place between UK government ministers and the EU over the UK’s involvement in the programme, but the government also recently published plans for their own Pioneer programme, which they have said will “protect and support the UK research and innovation sector” if negotiations on associating with Horizon Europe break down. 

UK scientists and researchers, and those representing them, are however, broadly pushing for Horizon Europe association. 

Sarah Main, the executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, for instance, has said, “Of course, it is sensible for the government to prepare alternatives…but let not the alternatives get in the way of the progress on both sides towards the goal of a full and cooperative research relationship between the UK and EU.” 

Similarly, Dr Owen Jackson, the director of policy at Cancer Research UK, has said, “UK-based cancer scientists are in a strong position to win funding from Horizon Europe and the EU’s Cancer Mission…but they will be at the margins, rather than at the centre, of these important opportunities if we don’t get association over the line.” 

Speaking in a parliamentary debate, Margaret Greenwood said that securing UK participation in Horizon Europe is vital to our local universities, including the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores, Liverpool Hope, the University of Chester and Edge Hill, and the academics and researchers who work there. 

Universities UK, which is the collective voice of 140 universities across the UK, has previously co-signed a statement with around 100 other organisations calling for Horizon Europe association to be a “core part of the future relationship between the EU and the UK for research, underpinning valuable scientific partnerships that have been built up over many years.” 

Speaking after the debate, Margaret Greenwood MP said, “Research, development and innovation are incredibly important, and Horizon Europe represents an opportunity for UK-based scientists and academics to access significant amounts of funding for their work. 

“It is particularly important to Wirral West and the Liverpool City Region because of the many people who work in research and development in universities. 

“The sector is understandably very keen for the government to make progress in their negotiations with the EU on securing association with Horizon Europe. 

“The government must listen to those voices from within the sector and do all that they can to be proactive in negotiations with the EU. 

“The consensus is that the government’s Pioneer programme, which they have published as an alternative in case they are not able to secure association with Horizon Europe, is very much a back-up plan and does not give the same level of opportunities to the research community. The government’s priority, therefore, should be to secure association to Horizon Europe.  

“I also took the opportunity in the debate to highlight concerns that the government’s former Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy returned £1.6 billion of funds previously allocated for Horizon Europe association to the Treasury last year. The Science and Technology Select Committee in parliament has also raised concerns publicly about this and it is something that has drawn criticism from the sector. 

“The government must make sure that research and development budgets are protected and it must do all it can to secure an association with Horizon Europe.”  

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