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'£500M a Year at Stake'

In a column in The Guardian, Mike Gaslworthy -- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine researcher and cofounder of the anti-Brexit groups Scientists for EU and Healthier IN -- says that if the UK leaves the the European Union without signing a deal with the EU -- the so-called no-deal Brexit -- British scientists stand to lose a huge amount of money in funding.

Before the referendum in 2016, ministers who subscribed to Vote Leave tried to calm the fears of British scientists, farmers, and others who relied on European funds by signing a pledge that promised the UK would continue to fund EU programs until 2020 if the country agreed to leave the EU, Galsworthy says. One of those thirteen signatories was current Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. This past July, however, Raab suggested that the UK might not honor the withdrawal agreement that guarantees continued funding of EU programs until 2020.

Scientists for EU immediately called out Raab's statement, Galsworthy says, highlighting that this was effectively an instruction for UK scientists to stop writing Horizon 2020 grant applications. A government statement released three days later guaranteed funding in the event no deal could be reached with the European Commission, and on Aug. 10, a follow-up document said that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would still have access to Horizon 2020 as a third country. On Aug. 23, he notes, the government released its first batch of technical notes on no-deal Brexit, which said that as a third country, UK institutions would no longer be eligible for three Horizon 2020 funding lines: European Research Council (ERC) grants, Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA), and SME instrument (SMEi) grants for small innovative businesses.

"That is a huge blow. We immediately calculated that these three lines represent 45 percent of the UK's receipts to date from Horizon 2020. If the UK is currently winning €1.283 billion each year from Horizon 2020, then a no-deal Brexit will cost UK research €577.35 million a year in lost opportunity to access these high-value grants," Galsworthy writes.

The ERC is the most critical of these, with the UK winning €4.73 billion to date from Horizon 2020 overall, with €1.29 billion of that in the form of ERC grants. Even if the UK government compensates the UK research community for that loss, Galsworthy says, it will take much longer than the few months left until Brexit Day to build a fund "as prestigious and attractive to global talent as the ERC." 

Also, he adds, the UK government said its future underwriting of UK participation in Horizon 2020 projects applies only to UK entities and not their partners. This effectively means that in a no-deal Brexit, the UK can no longer coordinate multinational Horizon 2020 projects. The UK has coordinated more Horizon 2020 projects than any other country to date, Galsworthy says -- in a no-deal Brexit, this leadership role is "stone cold dead."

He concludes that breaking the withdrawal agreement "not only undermines our relationship with our European neighbours, it is also a direct betrayal of British scientists. No deal is simply not an option."

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