Michelle Donelan in talks on UK access to EU’s £88.6bn science scheme

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The Government is set to hold talks with the European Union on the UK having associate membership of the bloc’s flagship Horizon Europe research programme.

Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan is travelling to Brussels to meet with the EU’s research and innovation commissioner Mariya Gabriel on Tuesday.

The UK hopes that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s new deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol marked a step towards British participation in the 100 billion euro (£88.6 billion) scheme, which funds scientific research across the EU.

But Ms Donelan stressed that the UK will only commit to joining Horizon on “the right terms”.

The Government is developing plans for a post-Brexit alternative in case negotiations with the EU fail, which will be published in the coming days, according to the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Ahead of the meeting, Ms Donelan said: “I am determined to ensure our world-class scientists have the very best platform on which to continue their work, with research that transforms the way we live and work, not just here in the UK, but around the world.

“I look forward to this introductory meeting with the EU and discussing possible future association with Horizon Europe. But we can only do so on the right terms, and I’m in Brussels today to ensure there is understanding of that on both sides, while taking forward these discussions in a constructive and respectful way.”

Speaking in a video taken on the train to the Belgian capital, the Cabinet minister said: “There has never been a more important time for our scientists to do world-leading work with the best and the brightest so I look forward to a really productive day.”

The UK’s associate membership of Horizon was foreseen in the post-Brexit trade deal, but remained in limbo as the dispute over trading arrangements for Northern Ireland dragged on.

However, the UK-EU deal to fix issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol in February led European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to say work on an association agreement could begin “immediately”.

Mr Sunak, who has pledged to turn the UK into a science and technology “superpower” by the end of the decade, has been under growing pressure from the science and research sectors to get the UK access to Horizon.

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