As a result of political tension with the European Union, the two countries are set to sign an agreement to cooperate on scientific research.
The United Kingdom and Switzerland have teamed up to cooperate on scientific research and innovation, after both countries were barred from joining a coveted European Union funding scheme. An agreement is expected to be finalised on Thursday in London.
Horizon Europe, which has a budget of €95.5bn (£81.2bn) over the six years to 2027, is the world’s largest multilateral funding programme for scientific research, which has helped finance, among others, vaccine research.
But the programme has been caught up in a political dispute between the EU and the UK over the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
What’s Brexit got to do with it?
In 2019, then UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen signed an agreement that set out the terms of UK’s withdrawal from the bloc. The agreement includes the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, a contentious issue during negotiations, in which the parties agreed to keep Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods.
But in June 2022, the UK introduced a bill that essentially rips up parts of that agreement – ramping up tensions with Brussels.
Switzerland, on the other hand, has never been a member of the European Union, but has instead signed dozens of bilateral deals with the bloc. The central European country’s full participation in Horizon has been blocked after Switzerland rejected plans for an overarching treaty with Brussels.
Concerns over ‘brain drain’
Under the terms of another Brexit treaty, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, UK can join Horizon as an associate member. But the European Commission has insisted there is no binding deadline for association in that agreement.
Researchers based in third countries can participate in the Horizon programme, but cannot usually lead projects or access funds.
Fearing brain drain, UK said it could soon pursue its own international scheme, known as Plan B. As part of that alternative programme, UK plans to sign more international agreements such as the one inked with Switzerland this week.
While no new funds for research have been announced as part of that deal, the Swiss ambassador in London, Markus Leitner, said it was a “clear political signal” that the two scientific powerhouses are planning to invest more in joint projects.
For UK researchers, however, joining Horizon remains the preferred route.
Jamie Arrowsmith, head of Universities UK International, said the quarrelling parties should “remove political impediments” and proceed “to ratify UK and Swiss association to Horizon Europe” in the interest of global science, the BBC reported.