Science agreement between UK and Switzerland is excluded from the EU program

A researcher poses with a monitor showing a tumor in an animal experimentation laboratory at the University of Geneva on January 18, 2022.

Britain’s science minister said the Swiss collaboration was the first in a series of planned science deals (file image)

The UK and Switzerland reach an agreement on scientific collaboration as the two countries continue to be blocked by a major EU program.

Political tensions mean the two nations have been left out of the EU’s multi-billion pound Horizon programme.

There are no fresh funds under the Anglo-Swiss agreement.

But Switzerland’s ambassador to the UK, Markus Leitner, described it as a “political signal” to researchers to deepen existing links and find new projects.

The deal will be finalized on Thursday in London.

UK Science Minister George Freeman said: “Being a science superpower means deepening our international relationships with major research and development economies like Switzerland.”

The deal will focus on areas such as artificial intelligence and turning academic discoveries into start-ups.

The UK and Switzerland have tried to join the EU’s main funding program for research and innovation, Horizon Europe, which has a budget of 95.5 billion euros (81.2 billion pounds sterling) over the six years to 2027.

But the UK left the EU in January 2020 and membership of Horizon has been stalled in a dispute over post-Brexit trade deals for Northern Ireland, with London accused of treaty breaches.

Switzerland has never been a member of the European Union, but has concluded dozens of bilateral agreements with Brussels. Full Swiss participation in Horizon has been blocked after Switzerland rejected plans for a comprehensive treaty with the EU.

The EU program brings together leading academic and industrial researchers from all member countries. People based in third countries can participate but generally cannot carry out projects or access EU funds.

Ambassador Markus Leitner said the UK-Switzerland deal was “separate” from its efforts to join Horizon, which remained a “priority”.

The UK’s membership of Horizon was agreed in principle under a Brexit treaty, called the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

However, the European Commission has repeatedly stressed that no binding deadline for the association is specified in this agreement.

The resulting uncertainty for the sector and fears of a ‘brain drain’ mean ministers say they could soon pursue their own international agenda known as ‘Plan B’.

International agreements would be part of this alternative program, along with new university scholarships and funding for cutting-edge research.

But universities have said a return to Plan B would be a “second best” outcome, while the scale of the Swiss deal falls short of Horizon.

However, Mr Freeman told the BBC he was planning more: ‘This Anglo-Swiss deal is the first of a series that I am negotiating. I was recently in Israel, which will follow next.’

There are concerns within the scientific and research community that the Treasury may seek to cut the £15bn that was earmarked for Horizon.

Billions of pounds in public spending cuts are expected by the Conservative government on November 17.

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