Britain launches dispute resolution with EU over post-Brexit research


FILE PHOTO: Flags of the Union Jack and European Union are seen ahead of the meeting of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in Brussels, Belgium December 9, 2020. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has launched dispute resolution proceedings with the European Union to try to gain access to the bloc's scientific research programmes, including Horizon Europe, the government said on Tuesday, in the latest post-Brexit row.

Under a trade agreement signed at the end of 2020, Britain negotiated access to a range of science and innovation programmes, including Horizon, a 95.5 billion euro ($97 billion) programme that offers grants and projects to researchers.

But Britain says, 18 months on, the EU has yet to finalise access to Horizon, Copernicus, the earth observation programme on climate change, Euratom, the nuclear research programme, and to services such as Space Surveillance and Tracking.

Both sides have said cooperation in research would be mutually beneficial but relations have soured over part of the Brexit divorce deal governing trade with the British province of Northern Ireland, prompting the EU to launch legal proceedings.

"The EU is in clear breach of our agreement, repeatedly seeking to politicise vital scientific cooperation by refusing to finalise access to these important programmes," foreign minister Liz Truss said in a statement.

"We cannot allow this to continue. That is why the UK has now launched formal consultations and will do everything necessary to protect the scientific community," said Truss, also the frontrunner to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister.

Daniel Ferrie, a spokesman for the European Commission, said earlier on Tuesday he had seen reports of the action but had yet to receive formal notification, repeating that Brussels recognised the "mutual benefits in cooperation and science research and innovation, nuclear research and space".

"However, it's important to recall the political context of this: there are serious difficulties in the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and parts of the Trade and Cooperation agreement," he said.

"The TCA, the trade and cooperation agreement, provides neither for a specific obligation for the EU to associate the UK to union programmes at this point in time, nor for a precise deadline to do so."

The EU launched legal proceedings against Britain in June after London published new legislation to override some post-Brexit rules for Northern Ireland, and Brussels has thrown doubt on its role within the Horizon Europe programme.

Britain said it had set aside around 15 billion pounds for Horizon Europe.

($1 = 0.9851 euros)

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper in London and John Chalmers in Brussels; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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