Plan B? UK allocates half a billion to post-Brexit science • The Register

The UK has earmarked almost half a billion pounds for “targeted” research investment after describing the EU’s “refusal to complete UK access to EU programs Horizon Europe, Euratom and Fusion for Energy”.

The money – £484 million ($496 million) – will provide “targeted support for staff retention and local talent strategies at eligible universities and research organisations” and ensure the UK’s laboratories remain world-class and at the forefront of research and development, he said UK Business Secretary Grant Shapps in a statement.

The press release from the Department for Enterprise, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) described this as covering the “EU deficit” but did not clarify whether it was in fact “Plan B” – a vague strategy for the Post -Brexit science funding first developed in 2019 – or part of Plan B. We have asked the department for further clarification.

We are aware that the money will be taken from funds earmarked for UK associations with Horizon Europe, Euratom and Copernicus.

To put the new funding into context, the almost half a billion pounds is much less than the €7 billion ($7.2 billion) the UK received between 2014 and 2020 as UK-based researchers were part of the Horizon 2020 programme. The predecessor of Horizon Europe. At the time, it was the second largest recipient of funding after Germany.

The EU’s flagship research programme, Horizon Europe, is the world’s largest such initiative and will provide nearly €100 billion (US$101 billion) in research funding over the next seven years.

This comes without calculating the allocations it would have used as part of Euratom and the EU agency Fusion for Energy, which controls its access to ITER, the international nuclear fusion engineering mega-project trying to solve the enormous problem of fusion energy. The experiment hopes to create sustained fusion reactions by replicating the process that takes place on the Sun. The idea is that the high-energy hydrogen nuclei collide, fuse into heavier helium atoms, and then release the leftover mass as energy — et voila: limitless clean energy.

The ITER tokamak is under construction in southern France and is expected to generate its first plasma in December 2025. It’s a sad state of affairs when British scientists are so heavily involved in its predecessor, the Joint European Torus (JET). Former UK Science Secretary George Freeman previously said he thought it was “impossible” for the UK to reproduce Euratom in “Plan B”.

The Department said that of the £484m announced yesterday, £42.1m ($49m) will go towards funding the Fusion Industry Program and £84m ($99m) will go towards funding JET.

Meanwhile, universities have complained about losing talented PhD students along with their funding – as it became clear the EU would not budge on the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is part of the trade deal the UK negotiated itself when the country decided to leave the European Union Union.

The protocol is part of the Brexit deal Britain signed, says the European Union, which has branded Britain’s attempt to reverse the deal as “illegal and unrealistic”.

“Not have [Horizon funding] for the British is a great success,” a European scientist previously told us.

In a statement yesterday, Shapps said: “The Government is disappointed that the EU is still linking the UK’s association to broader issues and the UK remains open to association but cannot wait indefinitely.”® Plan B? UK allocates half a billion to post-Brexit science • The Register

Rick Schindler

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