UK universities’ chances of staying in EU research programmes will come down to whether senior figures in Brussels seek to “punish” the UK in Brexit negotiations, according to MEP, Hans-Olaf Henkel.
Henkel, a former president of the Leibniz Association of non-university German research institutes and Federation of German Industries (BDI), said that a British MEP present had told the meeting that “the British government may do all sorts of things, but on two things they will not yield: one is freedom of movement and the other one is the jurisdiction of the European Court [of Justice] over Britain”.
Henkel was among a group of seven MEPs who met with leaders of Russell Group universities in Brussels, Belgium, on 30 May to discuss future UK-EU relations in research fields.
UK universities benefit from about £1.2bn (~€1.4bn) a year in EU research funding. As part of an EU framework programme, UK-based academics are eligible for European Research Council (ERC) grants and can join European research associations.
Brexit negotiations would have to cover not only the UK’s continued membership in the current framework programme, Horizon 2020 – which runs to the end of 2020, proceeding the March 2019 date for the UK to exit the EU – as well as its involvement in the successor programme.
Henkel added that Brexit “is not only a Horizon 2020 issue” but “becomes an issue in all sorts of deals the UK has. The question is whether the European Commission believes, or the [European] Council believes whether Britain must be punished.”
Israel is currently part of Horizon 2020 as an associate country, without subscribing to free movement. There have been suggestions that the EU could establish a similar status for the UK.