Briefing on the UK-EU trade deal: what does it mean for research & health?

Key points

  • UK access to EU funding programmes – Horizon Europe – is agreed.
  • There are still some challenges relating to clinical trials, medicines and data sharing.  

What does the deal mean for UK researchers?

  • UK researchers can apply for European Research Council schemes, and Marie Skłodowska-Curie awards. They can also participate in and lead collaborative projects. They should prepare bids and form consortia in the same way that they did when UK was a Member State.
  • The only scheme UK participants are ineligible for is the European Innovation Council Fund, which provides equity funding to businesses.
  • The first calls from the programme are currently expected in March/April, and it looks likely that the remaining formalities will be complete on a similar timescale so that the UK can take part without delay.
  • The UK’s success rates have fallen since the 2016 referendum, and these will need to recover to ensure that participation continues to represent good value for money.

You can find the latest official information on UK participation in EU funding schemes here.

UK access to the Horizon Europe research funding programmes is agreed

  • The UK will be able to fully participate in all parts of the Horizon Europe programme apart from the European Innovation Council Fund and any specific exclusions relating to security concerns. The UK will also still be able to participate in European Research Infrastructure Consortia (ERICs) and the European Research Area.
  • The UK’s overall financial contribution to the programme will be based on its GDP. There are safeguards to ensure that both the UK and EU are protected if the UK’s success rates are higher or lower than expected – and to ensure costs are not open-ended for the UK. The UK will also pay a participation fee, to cover administrative costs.
  • Both the UK and EU must “make every effort” to facilitate the movement of researchers, students, trainees and volunteers involved in the Horizon Europe programme across borders as required. In the UK this will likely be implemented through the Global Talent Visa. As part of the agreement, there is a requirement that the UK’s visa fees do not increase substantially.

There are still some challenges relating to clinical trials, medicines, data sharing and student exchanges

  • Most ongoing clinical trials should be minimally disrupted by the deal, but future changes to UK and EU regulation could create challenges, and UK-led trials that span several EU countries will now need to hire an individual or organization in the EU to act as a legal representative, adding a barrier to international collaboration. Cancer Research UK has published further detail.
  • The UK and EU agreed to recognise some of each other’s checks on medicines to streamline their movement across the border. However not all checks are covered, including batch testing. The Brexit Health Alliance has published a summary of what the deal means for continuity of supply of medicines.
  • Data sharing is not covered in this deal –the EU has yet to decide whether the UK’s data protection regime is ‘adequate’ to allow personal data to flow from the EU to the UK. The EU has six months to make this decision. The EU and UK have said they are committed to facilitating cross border data flows, and the deal prohibits either side requiring that data be stored or processed in their territory.
  • The UK will not participate in the Erasmus student exchange programme. A domestic alternative is being developed.

The deal signals continued cooperation between the UK and EU on key health challenges including antimicrobial resistance, climate change and health security

  • The deal commits to UK-EU cooperation on antimicrobial resistance, specifically to “endeavouring to reduce” unnecessary use of antibiotics in animal production, through international cooperation and work programmes, and to work towards ending the use of antibiotics as growth promoters internationally.
  • Climate change features throughout the agreement and is considered an area of mutual interest between the UK and EU. The UK and EU both reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement and their ambition of achieving ‘economy-wide climate neutrality’ by 2050.
  • There is a high-level commitment to cooperate on health security through international forums. More specifically, the deal grants the UK temporary access to the EU’s Early Warning and Response System in the case of a cross border threat to health.

This briefing has been originally published by Wellcome and it is accessible here. For more information on the BREXIT please check the Wellcome page.

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