The minister for the Government’s newly created science and technology department has signalled the UK is “ready to go it alone” if the EU does not agree to Britain’s post-Brexit terms of membership.
The new Secretary of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan, said she is prepared to snub the EU’s 100 billion euro (£88.6 billion) flagship research scheme and create an alliance with the United States, Japan and Switzerland.
Writing in The Telegraph, Ms Donelan acknowledged that the science sector was eager to know about the UK’s association with the EU programme, Horizon, but if the partnership could not come to fruition, she said “we are more than ready to go it alone”.
The Government’s Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, George Freeman, previously accused the European Commission of refusing to engage in talks over membership, saying Brussels was blocking Britain’s requests because of the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Eight months on and with progress still stalled, Ms Donelan said she would “not sit idly by while our researchers are sidelined”.
“If we cannot associate, we are more than ready to go it alone with our own global-facing alternative, working with science powerhouses such as the US, Switzerland and Japan to deliver international science collaborations,” she wrote in the Telegraph.
“The time for waiting is quickly coming to an end and I will not shy away from striking out alone.”
It comes amid mounting speculation that a deal is on the cards to reduce the red tape on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
On Friday, the Government and the EU reiterated their commitment to finding “joint solutions” to differences around the Northern Ireland Protocol which was agreed in 2019 as a way to unlock the logjam over securing a Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Ms Donelan’s “ready to go it alone” announcement is the first policy to emerge from the new science department that was created by the Prime Minister earlier this week during a Cabinet reshuffle.
Many UK scientists welcomed the new department after calling for one for a number of years, saying the announcement put science at the heart of government.
However, the president of the Royal Society, Sir Adrian Smith, responded to the news by saying Ms Donelan’s “first job” as Science Secretary “must be to secure association to Horizon Europe and other EU science programmes”.
“These schemes support outstanding international collaboration and without being part of them we are undermining the Prime Minister’s stated ambition for the UK to be at the forefront of science and technology globally,” he said.