Blog: Brexit fury: Minister ‘outraged’ at British scientists reduced to tears as EU blocks funds – Express

Brexit: Maroš Šefčovič slams ‘illegal’ bill

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It comes after Britain was told that it could no longer participate in Horizon Europe, the £80billion project that allows access to prestigious EU grants and collaboration with partners in Europe. The EU said this was over the Northern Ireland Protocol dispute, despite the UK being an associated member of Horizon featuring in the negotiated Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

After 18 months of delays due to the lengthy back-and-forth of the dispute, researchers continue to face uncertainty, with fears their grants could slip away.

This includes the 143 UK-based scientists who were promised Starting, Consolidator and Advanced grants under the 2021 work programme for Horizon.

The European Research Council (ERC), which is the bloc’s main research funding agency, told UK-based applicants selected for these grants that they must move to the EU or associated country within two months or else be replaced by other applicants.

The deadline to apply passed on June 10 – and Mr Freeman is outraged by the ultimatum.

Boris Johnson and von der Leyen

The EU told the UK it can’t take part in Horizon until the Northern Ireland Protocol row is resolved (Image: Getty )

George Freeman

Mr Freeman said it was “pretty outrageous” to tell researchers they would not receive funding (Image: Getty )

He told Express.co.uk: “I do think it is pretty outrageous actually of the EU to instruct the ERC and the other grant-giving bodies to send a message to researchers that there is no funding.”

He added: “These are people with a lived reality.

“For most researchers, their job is one part of their life. I met a professor recently in Cambridge who came to the UK from Belgium as part of the ERC grant programme.

“He has children, he has a wife. It is not that simple for him and his wife to just move over the summer and take the children out of school. He was nearly in tears to me asking ‘how do I deal with this’.”

Mr Freeman noted that researchers applying for Horizon funding will still get funding from the UK this year instead, should they be denied the EU cash.

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Researcher

143 UK researchers were told to relocate to a country associated with Horizon Europe (Image: Getty )

He said: “Firstly, we have launched in the UK… our guarantee so any Horizon bids are guaranteed through this year.“

Mr Freeman’s backup funding is also part of a broader masterplan, which he has dubbed “Plan B”.

Plan B also involves the desire to strike deals with partners outside Europe such as science powerhouses like the US, Japan and Switzerland, as well as still having one foot in Europe.

The EU has now set a new deadline to apply for the ERC funding before June 29.

It comes after an ERC spokesperson revealed to Express.co.uk that not a single UK-based applicant for Starting, Consolidator and Advanced grants has “transferred their planned projects to eligible host institutions,” it could be a sign that they are ready to back Plan B.

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EU negotiations

It was agreed that Britain would take part in Horizon Europe in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (Image: Express)

When asked by Express.co.uk whether he thought this was the case, Mr Freeman replied: “I would like to think so.”

He later added: “I think many of them are saying ‘I really don’t want to move, would Plan B allow for me to stay here and be active in European research and be funded?’

“And I am absolutely determined that the answer to that is yes.”

The scenario where Mr Freeman has to launch Plan B is now looking all the more likely as tensions with the EU reach boiling point.

Maros Sefcovic

Maros Sefcovic called the UK’s Northern Ireland Protocol bill “illegal” (Image: Getty )

Brussels blew its top at Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week over the Northern Ireland Protocol bill, which would allow the UK to unilaterally rewrite certain post-Brexit arrangements.

EU Vice-Chancellor Maros Sefcovic said: “Let there be no doubt: there is no legal nor political justification for unilaterally changing an international agreement.

“So let’s call a spade a spade: this is illegal.”

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