'Will be better!' Iain Duncan Smith backs £15bn global masterplan to ditch EU project

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Science Minister George Freeman has been drafting up a “Bold Plan B” ever since the EU told Britain it cannot participate in Horizon Europe over a furious Brexit dispute. Horizon is the bloc’s £80billion flagship innovation programme, offering researchers access to prestigious EU grants while collaborating with European partners. Britain had set aside £15billion to get involved.

But the EU told Britain it cannot take part unless the Northern Ireland Protocol row is resolved, despite the UK’s associated member status being included in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement negotiated in 2020.

Mr Duncan Smith is furious with the EU for this move, but thinks Mr Freeman’s backup plan could be the better option anyway.

The former leader of the Conservative Party told Express.co.uk: “The Government has offered science a huge amount of money for a new programme.

“I heard John Bell (a scientist) go on the radio and say ‘well frankly if Europe isn’t going to play ball, we should just get on and set our programme up, which will attract scientists from all around over the world to come in’.

“They (UK researchers) have starting to pick up on the fact that the UK should get on with this stuff without all this bureaucratic and political nonsense…and this will really bring scientists from all over the world into the UK.”

He later added: “I think (Plan B) will eclipse Horizon, and many well-known scientists have made clear that they are ready to go and get on with it and they don’t want to be messed around by Europe.

“And that is because they learnt what being independent meant during the pandemic. It doesn’t mean cutting ourselves off, quite the contrary. It means no longer being hamstrung by European political rules, thus getting on and bringing in the best science and scientists from around the world – that is the key.”

While the Science Minister still argues that Horizon participation is the preferred option, he has promised that the huge amount of funds the UK was supposed to contribute towards Horizon used for the backup plan if the dispute is not resolved.

As well as giving the UK the opportunity to partner with countries that are ‘third Country Participants’ across Europe, Mr Freeman is hoping to strike deals with science powerhouses across the globe, such as the US and Japan.

READ MORE: Brexit bonanza: UK poised to strike US, Japan and South Korea deals

He told Express.co.uk in an exclusive interview earlier this month: “We are absolutely committed to global science, research and innovation at the moment for global good.”

He later added: “We have huge partner appetite to do more with us…I think most researchers know that the big, exciting challenges are global.”

Mr Freeman has also promised researchers who were poised to receive Horizon grants that the money they would otherwise have lost if the UK was kicked out of the programme will still be provided by the UK’s backup funding “safety net”.

And as tensions soar over the Northern Ireland Protocol dispute, with Vice Commissioner Maros Sefcovic calling the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill “illegal”, it is looking more and more likely that Mr Freeman will have to trigger “Plan B”.

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The bill passed its second reading in Parliament this week, and would allow the UK to unilaterally override sections of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

As the EU hates this bill, it may be expected that Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will be unable to strike a new deal with the bloc, leaving Horizon participation up in the air.

Mr Freeman said: “They [the EU] are in danger of the worst of all worlds, which is the UK doing what it needs to do for the integrity of the United Kingdom.

“And the EU kicking us out of European research programmes, and I will then launch Global Plan B.”



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