On the doorstep to Brexit

Published: 2020-01-22

Note: text updated January 30 in order to reflect the current situation after ratification of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement by the EU Parliament 

The end of UK’s membership in the European Union is drawing near: January 31st will be a historic date. The Brexit referendum took place in June 2016 and much has happened since. It has been a long and tortuous road to the point where we stand today.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have extensive collaborations with the UK. Within the current EU framework program for research, Horizon 2020, we collaborate with more than 140 different UK partners within more than 100 EU-funded projects with a total project funding of 197,30 M €. Now, with Brexit at our doorstep, uncertainties remain as to the status of UK participation in future European research funding programmes.

On the 29th of January, the European Parliament voted to ratify the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.  Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, UK researchers will be able to continue to apply for and receive H2020 funding after the UK exits the EU on 31 January 2020. Furthermore, UK participants in H2020 projects will continue to receive EU funding for the lifetime of the individual project, even if it finishes after the end of the transition period in 2020. The status of UK participation in Horizon Europe, the successor to H2020 which will run from 2021-2027, is however less certain.

Association agreements

In addition to the EU countries, a number of countries participate in H2020 as “associated countries”. These countries, such as Norway, have signed association agreements with the EU and contribute financially to all or part of H2020. Legal entities from associated countries can participate in H2020 projects under the same conditions as entities from the EU member states, and the ideal post-Brexit scenario would be that the UK reaches a similar agreement in Horizon Europe and future EU framework programmes.

No significant consequences

We see no significant consequences for KI in the immediate future post-Brexit.  Ongoing collaborations will continue. In a longer time perspective, the consequences for KI are much harder to predict. Medical research might be impacted if difficulties arise in regard to trade and access to medical drugs. KI will closely monitor the development following Brexit. We have created an internal web site, where you can find links and contacts. There is also an official UK government information site (“UK participation in Horizon 2020 after Brexit”) well worth a visit.

In a week I will be leading a delegation from KI that will be traveling to London to discuss KI-UK collaborations in post-Brexit Europe. The meetings will be hosted by the Swedish Embassy. My vision is that KI-UK collaborations will proliferate and prosper in the years to come and that we will be navigating successfully even in the post-Brexit research ecosystem in Europe.

Brexit should be seen as an opportunity to rethink and not only as a hurdle to lament.

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