Politics

Boris’s £15BN ultimatum to EU – Rattled Eurocrats in meltdown as they blast ‘toddler’ UK

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The scathing analysis comes as a time of spiralling tensions between London and Brussels, with the two sides at loggerheads over both the Northern Ireland Protocol and fishing access to UK waters for French vessels. A leaked UK Government memo unveiled a dramatic plan to hit back by withholding cash from three flagship EU research projects.

Britain believes Brussels is purposely hampering its ability to participate in Horizon Europe, Copernicus and Euratom as a way of exerting leverage when it comes to arrangements for Northern Ireland.

In retaliation, the memo reveals the UK is ready to walk away from all three, into which taxpayers are currently scheduled to pay £2.1billion annually for the next seven years – the lifetime of the EU’s current budget.

The unnamed eurocrat said: “It seems the UK is always testing our limits, much in the same way that toddlers do.”

The memo suggests there is a widespread belief among UK ministers that participation in all three schemes is being deliberately stalled by the EU, meaning Britain’s universities are missing out on research and funding opportunities.

On Saturday a senior Government source told the Sunday Telegraph: “Blocking the UK from joining Horizon is in no one’s interest.

“We can’t participate and they lose out on our financial contribution.

“We’re having to look at alternatives in case the EU does block our access, which would be a breach of what we agreed less than a year ago.”

Brexit Minister Lord David Frost is also believed to be working with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to develop the Discovery Fund, Britain’s mooted alternative to Horizon Europe, in a move which would doubtless enrage European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen still further.

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The memo also indicates UK Government departments have been ordered to devise “alternatives to each programme in case association should not prove possible to a satisfactory timeline”.

Any decision to pull out of the trio of schemes would seem to contradict commitments previously made by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who used last month’s Budget speech to declare his intention to turn Britain into a “science superpower”.

On October 27, Mr Sunak tweeted: “We’re making the UK a Science Superpower – funding the fastest increase in R&D spending ever.

“As part of that, we’re upping core science funding by £1.1billion, fully funding Horizon Europe, increasing Innovate UK’s budget, and funding £800million for ARIA and £1.7billion for Net Zero R&D.”

The prospect of the UK being frozen out of Horizon Europe last week prompted 1,000 universities, 56 academies of science and thousands of EU-based scientific researchers to pen a joint statement warning of the risks.

It explained: “We are rapidly approaching a crunch point.

“With the first Horizon Europe grant agreements approaching and new calls soon to be launched, UK association must be finalised without further delay.

“Further delays or even non-association would result in a missed opportunity and a major weakening of our collective research strength and competitiveness.”

The statement added: “The absence of a clear timeline for finalising UK association is now causing increasing concern and uncertainty which risks endangering current and future plans for collaboration.

“It also sends unhelpful signals to other third countries wishing to associate.”

Professor Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of The League of European Research Universities, said: “A quick association of the UK to Horizon Europe is vital to continue these close collaborations and to tackle the many societal challenges that lay in front of us.

“A further delay simply for political reasons is unacceptable.”

Also speaking last month, Mariya Gabriel, the European Union’s Commissioner for Innovation and Research, said last month: “Association is a thematic subject, and I am confident that we are ready to tackle it as soon as possible, but transversal issues need to be tackled first.”

She said the UK’s membership will only be resolved once the diplomatic situation was resolved, continuing: “I think that it is important on our side to confirm our opinion to advance on the association, but only after the framework is agreed by both sides.”

Lord Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic staged talks aimed at resolving the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol on Friday – but Mr Sefcovic subsequently said he was “disappointed” but Britain’s unwillingness to compromise.

Mr Sefcovic is due to come to London for further talks this week.

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