The UK-Swiss science agreement as both are excluded from the EU system

The UK-Swiss science agreement as both are excluded from the EU system

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

The UK Science Secretary said the Swiss collaboration was the first of a series of planned science deals (file photo)

The UK and Switzerland strike a deal on science cooperation as both countries remain excluded from a major EU programme.

Political tensions mean the two nations have been excluded from the EU’s multibillion-pound Horizon programme.

There are no new funds as part of the Anglo-Swiss deal.

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

The deal will be finalized on Thursday in London.

UK Science Secretary George Freeman said: “Being a science superpower means deepening our international relationships with leading 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 are trying to join the EU’s flagship research and innovation funding programme, Horizon Europe, which has a budget of €95.5bn (£81.2bn) over the six years to 2027.

However, the UK left the EU in January 2020 and Horizon membership has been suspended due to a dispute over post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland, with London accused of treaty violations.

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

The EU program brings together leading academic and industrial researchers from all Member States. People based in third countries can participate, but usually cannot lead 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 associated membership of Horizon was agreed in principle under a Brexit treaty, called the Trade and Partnership Agreement.

However, the European Commission has repeatedly pointed out that no binding deadline has been set for connection under this agreement.

The resulting uncertainty over the industry and fears of a “brain drain” mean ministers say they could soon pursue their own international plan known as “Plan B”.

International agreements will form part of this alternative programme, along with new academic scholarships and funding for cutting-edge research.

But the universities said a return to Plan B would be a “second best” outcome, while the scale of the Swiss deal did not match Horizon.

But Mr Freeman told the BBC he was planning more: “This Anglo-Swiss deal is the first of a number I am negotiating. I was in Israel recently, which will follow.”

There are concerns in the scientific and research community that the Treasury could seek to cut the £15 billion earmarked for Horizon.

Billions of pounds worth of public spending cuts are expected from the Conservative government on November 17.

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