It's a relief' UK scientists handed £17m lifeline as EU threatens to BAN them over Brexit

Lord Frost gives update on UK’s participation in Horizon Europe

It’s a drop in the ocean compared to the bloc’s £80bn arsenal of funds, but experts have told that they are “relieved” to see the UK get the ball rolling on overseas collaborations. It comes after Britain was excluded from the EU’s key research and innovation project, Horizon Europe, and was told it cannot re-join until Brexit disputes are resolved. This tough stance was taken even though the UK’s participation was a feature of the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had also promised that Britain would be included in the project.

Britain was supposed to contribute £15billion over seven years so scientists could access that funding and collaborate with partners in the bloc.

With the delays hurting British experts minute by minute, Science Minister George Freeman reassured that he was drafting up a “bold Plan B” as a backup.

There have been fears that if the new Brexit Minister, Liz Truss, fails to strike a deal with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol and fishing licenses, then Horizon Europe could be permanently off the cards.

But now, Mr Freeman appears to have started rolling out the red carpet for UK scientists.

12 projects have been funded by a £17million investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Boris and scientists

British researchers have received £17million in funding (Image: Getty )

George Freeman

Science Minister George Freeman has been drafting up a “Plan B” to Horizon Europe (Image: Getty )

Each brings together some of the world’s leading research groups, both in Britain and internationally.

They will use the funding for cutting-edge research and are looking to make important moves in technological and engineering spaces.

Prof Philip Withers from the University of Manchester is leading the Manufacturing by design project, which has partnered up with the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France.

The project received £1.6million from the EPSRC.

He told “The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) has just undergone a €150million upgrade to make it probably the most advanced X-ray facility in the world.

“By having a team located in Grenoble and partnering directly with the ESRF, we will be able to undertake some of the most advanced experiments to understand manufacturing processed and the behaviour of manufactured components ever undertaken.”

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Liz Truss

Liz Truss ha been urged to strike a deal with the EU so Britain can re-join Horizon Europe (Image: Getty )

Prof Withers and his team were relieved to receive the much-needed funding.

He said: “It was a relief because it is increasingly difficult to take people and equipment to the ESRF to do experiments.

“This will mean we have a permanent on-site presence there and we can do some really challenging first of a kind experiments in support of the UK industry.”

Prof Withers said of the partnership with France: “It is a fantastic example of working together across Europe.”

He added: “Our project will help UK manufacturers by providing unique insights into their products and their processes.”

The Internet of Energy (IoE) is being led by Prof Rajiv Ranjan from Newcastle University and Prof Omer Rana from Cardiff University.

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Brexit negotiations

EU and UK negotiators discussing Brexit disputes (Image: Getty )

Their project was handed £1.5million in EPSRC funding and involves a partnership with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia.

Prof Ranjan told “This funding will allow us to bring the best brains and the best companies and the best in the industry together to solve this very critical problem the UK society and UK economy is facing.”

The IoE project will use sophisticated technology to develop approaches needed to make electric vehicles and their related infrastructure cyber secure, as well as process data on energy consumption and generation.

The professors said they were “very excited” to receive the funding, and stressed the importance of international collaborations.

Prof Ranja told “It is a good approach to look for partners outside of the EU, not to just restrict ourselves to European partners.

“I believe after working with Australia and other places that they [the EU] are missing a research culture or research excellence, they don’t really inform top scientific publication or top scientific fact the way other countries like the US, Hong Kong and Singapore.”


Scientists were “relieved” to receive funding (Image: Getty )

Prof Rana believes “we have to look beyond Europe”.

He explained: “But it should be Europe plus international, we need to work with the best teams around the world.”

The 12 projects include three quantum science and technology projects that build on the UK’s £1billion public and private investment in this field as part of the National Quantum Technologies Programme.

This includes a £650million investment through UKRI.

But experts have warned that this won’t be enough yet to replace Horizon Europe.

One of those projects is being led by Professor Gerald Buller, Heriot-Watt University.

His Ultrafast Single-photon detection for Quantum Applications (USQA) project was handed £1.3million in funding from the EPSRC.

The project will link three centres of excellence in quantum photonics, two of which are in the US.

Prof Butler told “It’s always a relief to get research funding. I see this funding as separate from Horizon Europe, given that this is a fully UK/US collaboration.

“This is one of the very few funding mechanisms available that would allow substantial long-term support of US UK collaborations.”

He said that the new funding will help strengthen the UK’s ties with the US as a collaborator in the field of research and innovation.

Prof Butler added: “The funding means a much stronger, long-term collaboration with our US partners at the Jet Propulsion Lab and Caltech.

“Although we already have a good relationship with our partners, a five-year project allows for longer-term planning of much more ambitious goals.”

Prof Butler said that this collaboration will let Britain access state-of-the-art single-photon detectors that are not available elsewhere.

He said that this will inevitably lead to major advances in some quantum technology applications such as quantum communications and quantum-enhanced imaging.


Much more will be needed to help rival Horizon Europe’s £80bn pool of funding (Image: Getty )

When asked why quantum photonics is an important area for the UK to explore, Prof Butler responded: “Quantum photonics includes a range of application areas that will ultimately affect everyday lives.

“For example, the use of the detectors developed in this project can help implement a global distribution network of encryption keys that are verifiably secure by the laws of quantum physics.

“There is a range of quantum sensing applications also which can help improved medical diagnosis and treatment.

“These are just some of the possible applications areas that span sectors such as telecommunications, aerospace, defence and medicine.

“UK industry already has good engagement with the national academic community to exploit some of these quantum technology advances as they progress.”.