September 6, 2023

UK PM greenlights Britain’s re-entry into Horizon Europe

The deal would see UK universities and startups able to access the EU's €95bn research funding pot

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has given the green light for a draft deal enabling Britain to join the EU’s Horizon Europe funding programme after two and a half years of post-Brexit negotiations, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Sunak has told British officials to finalise the draft agreement with the European Commission, which will see UK universities and startups able to receive funds from the EU scheme and take part in large pan-European collaborations, three UK officials and one EU diplomat confirmed with Sifted on condition of anonymity. 

The move, first reported by Bloomberg on Wednesday, will end a 32-month hiatus during which Britain was locked out of participating in the EU science and innovation scheme over the dispute between London and Brussels about post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland. 


Returning to Horizon Europe, which has a budget of €95.5bn for 2021-27, has been a repeated demand of  startups and universities in the UK, which have had to scramble for alternative sources of funding since their exclusion in January 2020. The EU scheme has been a key source of funding in the past for companies working across sectors like quantum computing, AI and 5G.

The UK is expected to announce the agreement as soon as this week, provided some minor details can be finalised, following intense negotiations on the financial contribution the UK should make into the EU budget in exchange for its participation. One of the officials told Sifted that the deal could be signed as soon as today, and announced tomorrow. 

Sunak is expected to have a conversation with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen before any announcement is made. Details on the association fee have not yet been disclosed.

Asked about the state of play of the negotiations at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Sunak told the UK's House of Commons that his “priority and preference” was to associate with Horizon Europe, but insisted the terms must be “right for both the British taxpayer and for British science and research”.

However, in a hint of a potential resolution, he added the government had been “extensively involved in discussions” with the Commission. “I hope to be able to conclude those successfully,” he said.

The prime minister’s office declined to comment. The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology was not immediately available for comment.

In July, the UK Treasury advised Sunak to go ahead with Britain’s association, after concluding that it provided value for money for the British research and innovation community. 

“I think that is fantastic news if true,” Moray Wright, the CEO of university spinout investor Parkwalk Advisors, told Sifted. “UK science and technology has benefitted from, and contributed to, Horizon projects hugely in the past, and it is great to see that this cooperation can start again. Most hard science projects take collaboration to solve and this announcement will surely help that occur.”

The UK has also reached a deal to join the Copernicus Earth observation programme — data from which startups rely on for things like agricultural and weather monitoring — but refused to take part again in the European Atomic Energy Community's (Euratom) nuclear energy R&D scheme, after ministers concluded it was "poor value for money," an EU diplomat familiar with the negotiations told Sifted.

Cristina Gallardo

Cristina Gallardo is a senior reporter at Sifted currently based in London (soon to be Barcelona) covering tech sovereignty and Iberia.