The UK has prepared an ‘alternative’ to EU science programs as membership talks stall, the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation has said.
“We in this country have voted to leave the European Monetary and Political Union,” George Freeman told the Financial Times’ Investing in Space conference on Thursday.
Freeman said the majority of his voters voted to leave the EU, but “didn’t want to leave Europe’s scientific, cultural, artistic, defense and security network at all”.
“There is a mechanism in the Northern Ireland protocol for the settlement of disputes, there is no mechanism to use Horizon, Euratom and Copernicus as a negotiating tool,” he said, referring to the EU science programs.
Freeman traveled to Brussels on Wednesday in a last-ditch attempt to persuade the EU to unlock the UK’s participation, which was agreed as part of the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement.
“Yesterday, for the sixth time, I was prevented from having meetings with the Commission,” Freeman said. “If we are blocked by Copernicus, I am determined to make it an opportunity to invest the same money. . . and working with other countries and developing a very strong commercial Earth observation sector,” he added.
The UK would switch to “Plan B” if its membership of joint science projects was not resolved “in the weeks and months to come”, Freeman said. “We have been in lockdown for 18 months, I cannot allow our science and research and industry sectors to be benched. . . without any security or trust,” he added.