The government is considering withdrawing from a series of EU science and research schemes worth £77 billion as relations with Brussels deteriorate.
Ministers are reportedly working on alternatives to Horizon Europe, the EU’s research funding scheme, its satellite scheme Copernicus and Euratom, its atomic energy treaty.
Withdrawing would pull up to £15 billion in funding from Brussels – and deny British researchers the chance to participate in its programmes.
A government paper circulated to a Brexit cabinet subcommittee last week, and leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, suggests ministers are considering pulling out of schemes if relations with Brussels break down further.
It would stop the EU from being able to eject the UK from the schemes should ministers decide to invoke Article 16 and suspend parts of the Northern Ireland protocol this month.
Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, yesterday suggested the British government is “laying the foundations” to invoke Article 16 – and that such a move would be in bad faith.
A move to suspend parts of the protocol could see the EU doing likewise with the Brexit trade deal, he warned.
The minister insisted the EU was in “solutions mode” and could go a “little further” in terms of trying to streamline checks required on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
However, he warned there was a limit to the EU’s flexibility and criticised the UK for adopting a tactic of asking for a lot while offering nothing in return.
Noting potential retaliatory action the EU could take if the UK triggers Article 16, Coveney highlighted that the Trade and Co-Operation Agreement was contingent on implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the protocol arrangements.
“I believe that if the British government essentially refuses to implement the protocol, even with the extraordinary flexibilities that are now on offer, and instead looks to set it aside then I think the EU will respond in a very serious way to that,” he told RTE Radio One.
He said that did not mean the introduction of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
‘Set aside by the EU’
The minister added: “It means that the Trade and Co-operation Agreement that was agreed between the British government and the EU was contingent on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, which includes the protocol.
“One is contingent on the other. So if one is being set aside, there is a danger that the other will also be set aside by the EU.”
The UK is to pay £2.1 billion annually to the Horizon programme to maintain access for British scientists and researchers to pan-European projects and funding.
A government spokeswoman said yesterday: “The UK stands ready to formalise our association to Horizon Europe at the earliest opportunity but disappointingly there have been persistent delays from the EU, despite them being obligated under the Trade and Co-operation Agreement to finalise our participation.”