SCOTTISH universities and researchers have been "hammered" by the UK's exit from the EU's Horizon scheme, the SNP have said, as a Tory minister heads to Brussels to discuss Britain rejoining the billion-euro programme. 

The UK Government is set to hold talks with the European Union regarding associate membership of Horizon, the bloc's science funding and research program.

On Tuesday, Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, will travel to Brussels to meet with Mariya Gabriel, her European Commission counterpart.

The meeting is understood to be introductory, with any agreement to allow the UK access to the EU's 100 billion euro (£88.6 million) scheme still expected to take some time to be finalised.

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The UK was due to become an associate member of the program two years ago – but the plans were derailed by the row over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The SNP said universities and researchers in Scotland have taken a "hammering" while negotiations stalled. 

However, with the Windsor Framework now in place, and fraught negotiations between the UK and EU now over, early stages of talks regarding Horizon are now set to begin. 

“I am determined to ensure our world-class scientists have the very best platform on which to continue their work, with research that transforms the way we live and work, not just here in the UK, but around the world," Donelan said ahead of the meeting. 

“I look forward to this introductory meeting with the EU and discussing possible future association with Horizon Europe.

"But we can only do so on the right terms, and I’m in Brussels today to ensure there is understanding of that on both sides, while taking forward these discussions in a constructive and respectful way.”

The National: Donelan will meet with her European Commission counterpart in BrusellsDonelan will meet with her European Commission counterpart in Brusells (Image: PA)

Alyn Smith MP, the SNP’s Europe and EU accession spokesperson, said: “Scottish universities, researchers and businesses have taken a hammering because billions of future research funding has been up in the air while Westminster politicians have spent the last years negotiating with themselves. 

"I have yet to meet a single researcher who does not want to fully remain within the Horizon Europe framework, though I suppose I should be glad that the Secretary of State has finally found her way to the Eurostar, but this silly cherry-picking will serve nobody well."

Smith said Scotland and the UK should be in Horizon, "no ifs and or buts". 

"For Scotland we could be part of all the EU has to offer – exactly what we voted for in 2016, instead we’re at the mercy of the pro-Brexit Westminster parties who’ll dictate to us what parts we get to keep," he added. 

“Whether Horizon negotiations are a sign the Tories are coming to their senses on Brexit, or is a cynical attempt to have their cake and eat it too, it’s clear being outside the EU is causing unnecessary harm – something we’ll reverse when we regain our independence and rejoin the European Union, where we belong.”

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We previously told how the stalled dialogue had led to "confidence ebbing away" from UK science after the EU blocked the UK from taking part in the scheme.

When the UK left the EU, its participation as a full member of the EU’s 100 billion euro (£88.6 billion) scheme was essentially ruled out, but a new role as an associate member was part of the post-Brexit trade deal.

But, following the new deal for Northern Ireland, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the UK's access to the flagship research program was back on the cards. 

In February, von der Leyen told a press conference in Windsor: “Yes, this Windsor Framework is good news for scientists and researchers in the European Union and in the UK.

“Because, of course, the moment we have finished this agreement – so it’s an agreement in principle – the moment it’s implemented I am happy to start immediately right now the work on an association agreement, which is the precondition to join Horizon Europe.

“So good news for all those who are working in research and science.”

Last week, over 30 business leaders wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and urged him to negotiate the UK's associate membership "without delay". 

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The Chemicals Industries Association and Logistics UK, Signatories Tech UK, and businesses including Airbus and EDF, told the Prime Minister that participation in Horizon would deliver things "the UK alone could not", and stressed that the UK Government would not be able to "recreate" its benefits.

The letter argued that the benefits of being part of the program go "far beyond funding" and would help the UK to bolster research capabilities, make it easier to universities to recruit "top talent" and enhance data sharing. 

Brian Cox, the TV physicist, voiced his support for the letter on social media, tweeting: "We need to rejoin Horizon without delay, as everyone who knows anything about science and innovation has been telling the government for months.

"We’re all fed up with the prevaricating. Get on with it!"