The EU Commission has for the first time laid out how it will handle its scientific relationships with the UK after the country leaves in 2019, in a sign that Brussels has begun thinking about emergency steps should Brexit negotiations fail.
In a notice posted on the research section of the Commission website on October 6, UK researchers are informed that if the UK does not agree on a new science cooperation arrangement with Brussels after it leaves in March 2019, they will not receive any more EU funding or will have to leave existing projects.
“If the United Kingdom withdraws from the EU during the grant period without concluding an agreement with the EU ensuring in particular that British applicants continue to be eligible, you will cease to be eligible to receive EU funding or be required to leave the project on the basis of Article 50 of the grant agreement,” the notice says.
The note also reaffirms the eligibility of UK legal entities to fully participate and receive funding from the Horizon 2020 research programme while the UK remains a member of the EU.
While it removes lingering doubt about the status of UK researchers in EU research projects in the immediate period after Brexit, the notice “Will cause immediate uncertainty from UK applicants and from applicants who were thinking of including UK partners,” said Mike Galsworthy, founder of research advocacy group Scientists for EU.
It raises the prospect of huge disruption for projects, which would need to be re-adjusted mid-flight, Galsworthy said. That would make life particularly complicated for projects headed by a UK partner.
But the notice also serves another purpose of turning up the heat on negotiators, by raising the stakes of a no-deal, said Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Universities, an association of 23 universities.
“Research is a very successful UK domain in EU policy, so they certainly can turn up the heat there and create internal UK turmoil to change their minds,” Deketelaere said.
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