Findings come as the Horizon 2020 programme ends and the new Horizon Europe programme begins, five years after the Brexit vote.
A look back at 23rd June 2016…
On the fifth anniversary of the vote to leave the EU, new analysis from the Scientists for EU campaign shows that since that vote in 2016, the UK’s grants won on the EU’s Horizon 2020 science programme steadily plummeted until the end of the programme in December 2020.
Before the vote on June 23rd 2016, the UK had been consistently neck-and-neck with Germany for many years on both participation counts and total grant amounts. If the UK had not voted for Brexit, it would have kept pace with Germany, winning some €1.70 billion (£1.46 billion) more in grants.
From 2017 to 2020 the UK also dropped from a longstanding joint first place to fifth place in just four years. By 2020, the UK won less money and had fewer project participations than Germany, France, Spain and Italy – only just ahead of the Netherlands.
Without Brexit, it is estimated that the UK would have won 2,742 more project participations, or about 30% than it actually did from 2017-2020. Reasons for disruption include a constant threat of a possible no-deal situation (no withdrawal agreement) from 2016 through to December 2019 and uncertainty over the UK’s long-term future on the programme. This made the UK a higher risk partner on consortia – and higher risk for UK institutions to put in applications, not knowing the long-term future.
These findings are timely as, now out of the EU, the UK is beginning to be able to more accurately count the cost of Brexit. The Horizon 2020 programme has now been complete with a new “Horizon Europe” starting up. Therefor it raises the timely question of how the UK builds back its position on the new €95bn Horizon Europe programme. It does not start in pole position, but will it be able to climb back to top spot, or has too much lead and momentum been lost to the other countries? Is the agreement certain and stable enough that UK institutions feel confident enough to compete there again or EU/Associated Countries feel as confident as they were pre-Brexit vote to take on a UK partner? What will the UK government be doing to sell the UK as a “science superpower” on our continent? Will they engage in a charm offensive to help UK science regain its former glory as a multinational lead player on the programme?
Dr Mike Galsworthy, Director of Scientists for EU said: “Looking ahead, UK science will want to regain quickly its leading role on the European science programme. Brexit uncertainty over five years has knocked the UK’s position down several rungs and blown a huge hole in our funds and networks. The PM is promising Britain will regain its status as a global “science superpower”, but what’s his plan to regain our status as a European science superpower? We do need a plan to build back better in Europe after Brexit and this is not something the government can ignore.”
Professor Dame Anne Glover, supporter of Scientists for EU said: “The damage from five years of Brexit uncertainty and antagonism has been immense for our researchers so used to being able to collaborate with their colleagues all over the continent. To stop the decline we must engage in positive initiatives fast. The Royal Society of Edinburgh has recently launched the Saltire Research Awards in collaboration with the Scottish Funding Council and the Scottish Government in order to reinvigorate Scotland’s research partnerships with Europe following the double blow of Brexit and Covid-19, which has left us more isolated. That initiative is the kind of bounce-back and re-engagement we need. Not just in Scotland, but everywhere. Boris Johnson talks of the UK being a “science superpower” but this will only be achieved by an appreciation that he has a huge amount of recent vandalism to undo on the way back to any such international position.”
Professor Martin McKee CBE, supporter of Scientists for EU said: “These figures are shocking but not surprising. Britain’s scientific community was overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit, and we now see that the concerns were justified. This is a lose-lose situation. UK-based scientists have made a huge contribution to European projects, but the next generation of British researchers could suffer badly because of the chaos of the last five years. Unless this government restores our leading position in the world’s leading multinational scientific community, they will be missing vital experience in collaborative projects at the cutting edge of science. After also abandoning ERASMUS+ with all its rich exchanges, this Government has left our networks worryingly degraded. It is meaningless for the PM to talk about restoring the UK as a “science superpower” unless he and his government quickly commit to repairing the damage they have caused and urgently rebuilding our vital science and higher education links.”