Brexit Britain signs £119m 'cutting-edge' Japan deal after being blocked from EU scheme

Following a visit to Japan, UK Science Minister George Freeman has announced that the UK will launch a global research fund to deepen scientific collaboration between international research partners. The new International Science Partnerships Fund has been handed an initial £119million in support of UK researchers collaborating with scientists in Japan and around the world. This fund brings Britain closer to enacting its “Plan B”, after the country was blocked by EU from a major £80billion flagship research programme. Despite having negotiated its entry into the EU’s Horizon Europe programme, disputes over the Brexit deal has meant that the UK has continued to be blocked from participating.  

While this £80billion science programme that would have let UK researchers access prestigious EU grants and collaborate with European scientists on a range of projects, has not yet come to fruition.

While the Government has continued to push for its reentry into the programme, it is also looking to secure a backup plan, particularly by increasing collaboration with non EU countries like Australia, Switzerland, and now Japan.

While in Tokyo, Mr Freeman unveiled the first phase of the new International Science Partnerships Fund (ISPF), which will support and fund UK scientists and innovators to work with peers around the world on some of the most pressing issues facing the world. 

In a keynote speech to scientists, investors, industrialists and global research leaders, he laid down the UK’s plans to take a more global approach to science, innovation and business.

This approach would involve collaborating with partners across the world to “both drive innovation, investment and prosperity in the UK, while also strengthening the UK’s leadership in tackling the big global challenges facing the globe.”

These challenges mentioned include tackling global warming, harnessing new energy sources like “limitless” nuclear fusion, cleaning up the oceans and making space safe and sustainable.

Mr Freeman said: “The UK has a well-earned reputation for world-class science and research, and an extremely vibrant start-up enterprise sector.

“But being a Science Superpower means ensuring we don’t just win prizes but invest in the appliance of science for global good: collaborating more deeply with other leading nations to tackle the urgent global challenges facing our planet. This Fund will help the UK deepen our global research network in Japan and beyond tackling some of humanity’s greatest challenges.”

READ MORE: UK eyes science deal with Japan as it is still blocked from EU scheme

This deal with Japan follows a Memorandum of Understanding on Science with European science powerhouse Switzerland earlier this year.

The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, while this partnership is not aimed as a replacement to the UK collaborations with the EU, “the Government cannot wait forever to invest through association.”

They added that the Government’s top priority was to invest in the “UK’s world-leading R&D sector and facilitate their collaborations with international counterparts.

“It is disappointing that while the Government continues to focus on strengthening the UK’s international links and collaborations globally, the EU’s persistent delays to the UK’s association to Horizon is damaging collaboration with European partners.”

UKRI’s international champion Professor Christopher Smith said: “Today’s announcement is a positive first step in the development of this important new international fund.

“Research and Innovation know no boundaries nor do the multiple challenges we face from pandemics to conflict, climate change to economic shocks.

“International collaboration is integral to ensuring the UK harnesses the extraordinary potential of research and innovation to enrich and improve the lives of people living in the UK and around the world.

“Having a specific fund to enable international collaboration will help the UK achieve this vision. UKRI will help to deliver ISPF bringing benefits for the UK research and innovation sector and our international partners.”