Politics

Brexit shock: Former PM offers ‘unrealistic’ advice for Boris as EU trade talks stall

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Horizon Europe is the EU’s new innovation programme, planned for the next seven years to develop world-class technology and science. As it stands, the UK is set to crash out of the programme by the end of the year, as the EU warns a post-Brexit deal is “unlikely”.

The Labour Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010 issued a “call to action” to remain in the science programme.

Addressed to MPs, local authorities, trades unions and companies, Mr Brown urged the UK to continue research collaborations with the EU.

Without a deal on association, UK science groups will lose out on full access to the EU finding scheme.

For the next seven years, the EU has earmarked a staggering €94.1 billion in funding for its research scheme.

Mr Brown made the remarks at the online Edinburgh International Book Festival on Friday.

Flanked virtually by European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, he underlined the importance of the programme to helping the UK economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite high tensions between the UK and EU, Mr Brown also urged the Government to take a “new pragmatic pro-jobs approach” to relations with the blocs groups.

After the former Prime Minister questioned if the UK could still participate, Mr Timmermans said “I don’t see any problem” with Britain’s continued membership in Horizon Europe.

Fears remain about the UK’s access to EU research programmes and other similar funded collaborations.

The UK’s participation in Horizon Europe is not one of the sensitive issues in trade talks, as Downing Street has already indicated it will pay its way into the research programme regardless of membership.

But if no deal is reached, research agreements will be scrapped and renegotiated.

Currently, the largest issues holding up a Brexit deal are fishing rights and state aid arrangements, which has frozen talks.

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Mr Brown’s comments case after talks between the EU and the UK came to a standstill last week.

Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief negotiator, has dismissed David Frost’s draft deal as “unrealistic”.

He also urged EU states to remain “cold-blooded” with the UK, in a troubling sign for trade deal progress.

Mr Barnier added: “Those who were hoping for negotiations to move swiftly forward this week will have been disappointed.”

Uncertainty over the UK’s future in EU research programmes is already harming UK science groups.

The Royal Society discovered last year the UK’s annual share of EU research funding fell from €1.49 billion in 2015, the year before the referendum vote to leave the EU, to €1.06 billion in 2018.

Drops in funding were largely caused by a reduction in grant applications from UK researchers.

The EU-imposed deadline for negotiations with the UK ends in October, with an agreement believed to be “unlikely” at this stage.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis said: “The last three weeks will matter more than the first three years.”

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