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Horizon Europe – hidden strings revealed

24 September 2023

The Francis Crick Institute, London, the biggest single research centre in Europe – the EU has designs on controlling funding. Photo Sandor Szmutko / Shutterstock.

The deeper you dig, the clearer it becomes that the agreement signing up Britain to the EU’s Horizon Europe research programme is a dodgy deal.

Technical documentation published by the EU, though not by Downing Street nor by any UK government department, throws new and disturbing light on the compensation to be paid to Britain should the value of grants won be substantially less than Britain’s overall contribution to the EU (estimated at over £2 billion).


Prime minister Rishi Sunak boasted that the new agreement for Britain to take part in Horizon Europe (also known as Framework Programme 9) was “a bespoke agreement … in the best interest of British taxpayers”. It has now become apparent how bespoke it is. So bespoke, in fact, that it is designed to lock Britain in to contributing to follow-on Horizon programmes when the current one ends in 2027.

The mechanism is described in Article 5, paragraph 4 of an Annex to the documentation for the European Council unearthed by science policy website Science|Business. The language is highly technical, but the effect is that any refund for the last two years of the programme will be paid as a reduction of contributions for the following programme.


In lay language, “You get a voucher for FP10, rather than a cheque in the post,” said Martin Smith from the giant health research charity the Wellcome Trust.

‘This arrangement does not apply to other countries associated to Horizon Europe.’

It’s an arrangement that pro-EU academics will be delighted with, since it makes it more likely that Britain will have to join Framework Programme 10 – or be left missing out on potentially hundreds of millions of pounds of refunds. This “voucher” arrangement does not apply to other countries associated to Horizon Europe, such as Israel.