EU R&D grants after Brexit

What happens to European R&D grants post Brexit?

The Brexit referendum took place on 23rd June 2016 and changed the future overnight. Major changes like this often have both positive and negative impacts. So – what impact does Brexit have on UK SME businesses when it comes to benefiting from generous European Horizon 2020 R&D grants?

Clearly, while the UK remains a member of the EU, UK SME businesses are fully entitled to apply for European R&D grants, but what happens after the 29th March 2019? The good news is that the UK Government is fully committed to supporting research and innovation. That’s why HM Treasury made the following statement on 13th August 2016, less than 2 months after the EU referendum:

 ‘UK businesses and universities should continue to bid for competitive EU funds while we remain a member of the EU and we will work with the Commission to ensure payment when funds are awarded. The Government will underwrite the payment of such awards, even when specific projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.’

This gives confidence to UK SME businesses to continue to apply right up to the point of EU departure – as the Government commitment guarantees funding awards even when applications submitted before the deadline are subsequently approved after UK departure.

Ah, but will the UK’s intentions to depart from the EU impact UK applications for funding? After all, many of Horizon 2020’s expert assessors are based within the EU?

Commissioner Moedas asserted that “Horizon 2020 projects will continue to be evaluated based on merit and not on nationality.” The European Commission guidance for evaluators of Horizon 2020 proposals clearly outlines:

“Until the UK leaves the EU, EU law continues to apply to and within the UK, both when it comes to rights and obligations. This includes the eligibility of UK legal entities to participate and receive funding in Horizon 2020 actions. Experts should not evaluate proposals with UK participants any differently than before.”

So, in principle, UK applicants for European R&D grants should be treated no less favourably than our EU counterparts. After all, there are countries that participate in the Horizon 2020 programme that are not members of the EU. For example, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland benefit from Horizon 2020 and so does Israel, which isn’t even in Europe!

Does that mean there are absolutely no impacts on UK SMEs as a result of the Brexit vote? Well, IMHO, no! I really do think UK SME’s are negatively impacted. Why would any EU-based business, contemplating a pan-European collaborative R&D project, seriously consider a UK partner given the uncertainty surrounding how and when the UK will leave the EU?

Latest negotiations have confirmed a transition period after 29th March 2019 that extends to 31st December 2020 with the UK continuing to pay into the EU budget. UK SME businesses should make hay while the sun shines – and make the most of generous EU R&D grants before they all disappear!

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