UK in legal dispute with EU over access to science programmes

Wed 17 Aug 2022
Posted by: William Barns-Graham, Phillip Adnett
Trade News

UK launches legal action Horizon science

The UK government has launched legal proceedings against the EU in an “effort to end persistent delays to the UK’s access to EU scientific research programmes, including Horizon Europe.”

Foreign secretary and Conservative Party leadership contender Liz Truss triggered formal dispute proceedings over claims that the EU is breaching the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) by blocking Britain’s access to multiple science schemes.

As well as governing post-Brexit trade between the UK and EU, the TCA includes mechanisms for resolving disputes between London and Brussels.

Horizon framework

Under the TCA, the UK was slated to be part of numerous EU-funded science programmes, including the Horizon Europe R&D framework, the Copernicus Programme (which provides satellite data on climate change) and the Euratom Research and Training Programme.

The foreign secretary had become frustrated that the details of this arrangement had still not been formalised, Sky News reports.

Truss has pledged to do “everything necessary” to protect British science.

‘Clear breach’

In a letter to the European Commission triggering the consultation, the UK’s ambassador to the EU, Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby, wrote: “It has been a long-running source of frustration for the UK and we have exhausted every other route to try to resolve it.”

In a statement, Truss said: “The EU is in clear breach of our agreement.”

“That is why the UK has now launched formal consultations and will do everything necessary to protect the scientific community,” she added.

Northern Ireland

According to Politico, the European Commission has previously said it will hold back funding for UK scientists in response to prime minister Boris Johnson's introduction of legislation designed to unilaterally modify the Northern Ireland Protocol.

UK ministers argue, however, that there is no basis for linking the two issues.

Hustings

The announcement came ahead of today’s (17 August) Tory hustings event in Northern Ireland, with Truss pledging to do “everything necessary” to protect British science.

Both Truss and her rival for the leadership, Rishi Sunak, have pledged to “fix” the Protocol and both said they support the bill to modify parts of the arrangement, the BBC reports.

‘Formal consultations’

According to the Guardian, the EU now has 10 days to reply to the UK’s request for a formal consultation

The consultation must be held within 30 days of the UK’s request.

If the consultation is not successful, the UK can submit a written request to begin arbitration.

Commission response

Commenting on the launch of proceedings, a spokesperson from the European Commission said: “The Commission takes note of the UK’s request for consultation and will follow up on this in line with the applicable rules, as set out in the trade and cooperation agreement.”

As reportedly previously by the IOE&IT Daily Update, the EU has itself launched a number of legal actions against the UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol.