Britain and the EU have reportedly agreed a draft deal that would see the UK rejoin the bloc’s Horizon Europe science programme – amid warnings being outside is “damaging” British science

Rishi Sunak‘s government has come under intense pressure from top researchers and industry leaders to get back in the scheme, amid warnings being outside is damaging UK competitiveness.

The UK has been locked out of the £81 billion science funding system since Brexit, despite previous agreement in principle with the EU that it could continue to take part.

Brussels was accused of dragging its feet on green-lighting UK associate membership and using it as leverage during a stand-off over the Northern Ireland border.

But with that issue put to bed for now the UK is still yet to accede because of haggling over the expected financial continuation to the programme.

The UK government has argued that it should not have to pay for the years where it has been locked out of the scheme, whose €95.5 billion (£81.6 billion) budget runs from 2021-27.

A draft deal that would see the UK rejoin has now been agreed by negotiators, the Politico website reported on Wednesday, citing two officials familiar with discussions.

The prime minister is expected to be presented with the proposal at the weekend and then meet European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen next Tuesday where the agreement could be confirmed.

But a government spokesperson downplayed reports of a breakthrough, telling The Independent: “Talks are ongoing and therefore, we have not yet agreed a deal.”

A European Commission spokesperson declined to comment on the reports that a draft deal had been reached.

The agreement reportedly says the UK would rejoin Horizon Europe, as well as the Copernicus Earth observation program — but not Euratom’s nuclear energy R&D scheme. The UK government reportedly considers this “poor value for money”.

Last month Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse, head of the Francis Crick Institute in London, told the Financial Times it was “absurd” that rejoining Horizon was “taking so long” and that “every month of delay in these negotiations is damaging science and damaging the country”.

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