Brexit and EU Research Funding – November 2020 update

As we approach the end of the transition period, Áine Ryan, International Research Funding Manager, writes about the impact of Brexit on UK researchers’ access to EU funding.

As the end of the transition period approaches, it is a good time to review what Brexit means for EU funded research. It is still unclear if the UK and the EU will agree a deal on their future relationship, so we must continue to plan for multiple scenarios. Brexit also has different implications for EU Research funding depending on whether the funding is part of Horizon 2020 or Horizon Europe. In this blog, I outline the key points of the various scenarios.

Horizon 2020

The Withdrawal Agreement that was signed in January 2020 guarantees that the UK can continue to participate in the EU programmes – including Horizon 2020 – that are financed by the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). This funding will continue for the lifetime of awarded grants, and the funding will continue to be paid directly by the EU. If there is ‘no-deal’ on the future UK-EU relationship after the end of the transition period (currently set to 31 December 2020), the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement are expected to still stand, and Horizon 2020 funded research remains protected. The underwrite guarantee through which UKRI would have funded existing or future H2020 projects if no withdrawal deal had been agreed in January 2020, is no longer needed. Official information confirming this is available from UKRI, UKRO and the UK Government. Please share these official sources with your European collaborators who may be concerned about the impact of Brexit on any Horizon 2020 funded projects.

Horizon Europe

Horizon Europe is the 9th Framework Programme through which the EU will fund research and innovation. It will run for seven years from 2021-2027, and be funded by the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Although the Withdrawal Agreement protected UK participation in Horizon 2020, it did not cover access to Horizon Europe, so UK access is partially dependant on securing a deal on the future UK-EU relationship. A no-deal on the future relationship would limit the UK’s potential to participate in Horizon Europe. Let’s look at two different possible scenarios and how they would affect UK researchers’ ability to apply for Horizon Europe funding.

Scenario A: The UK becomes an Associated Country to Horizon Europe

In this scenario, the UK would become an ‘Associated Country’ and would be eligible to participate in Horizon Europe as if it were still a member state. We would be able to apply for ERC, MSCA and collaborative calls as before. Switzerland, Norway and Israel are examples of countries who are Associated Countries to Horizon 2020.

However, the process for becoming an Associated Country takes some time. Every country that wishes to become associated must negotiate an individual deal on association with the EU. The process for the UK to begin negotiating association cannot begin until the overarching deal on the future UK-EU relationship is finalised. Also, the sections of the Horizon Europe legal text that outline the rules for association are not yet (Nov 2020) finalised. So, even if a deal on the future UK-EU relationship is agreed by the end of the transition period (currently 31 December 2020), there will likely be a delay until association is secured, and the UK may miss out on some of the early deadlines in 2021 (notably the ERC Grant calls). As a guide, Switzerland is optimistically expecting to only begin being eligible to apply for calls with deadlines from September 2021.

In the event of a delay to association, and any gap before we became formally associated, the UK Gov will implement short-term alternative funding arrangements. One example is the forthcoming Discovery Fund. During any gap, the UK Gov will also provide funding to UK partners who are successful in bidding to programmes open to third country participation. See the UK Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap for confirmation. Please ensure that your European partners are aware that UK based researchers can still participate in and coordinate, Horizon Europe collaborative calls even with no deal on association.

Scenario B: The UK does not associate to Horizon Europe

If the UK does not associate, we will then be a so-called ‘3rd country’. In this scenario, we would not be able to apply for Horizon Europe ERC and MSCA-IF calls at all (except for ERC Synergy and MSCA-Global – both open to 3rd countries).

However, to allow UK organisations to participate in the collaborative funding calls, the UK Gov will provide funding to UK partners who are successful in bidding to programmes open to third country participation. Eligible consortia must consist of beneficiaries from at least three different member states or associated countries. See the UK Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap for confirmation. Please ensure that your European partners are aware that UK based researchers can still participate in and coordinate, Horizon Europe collaborative calls even with no deal on association.

Support available from Edinburgh Research Office

You can read more detailed FAQs about the impact of Brexit on Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe funding on our dedicated Brexit page (University of Edinburgh access only).

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Áine Ryan

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