The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) included provisions for the UK to keep participating in some EU programmes, such as Horizon Europe (research) and Copernicus (space).

Although the TCA has been in operation since 1 January 2021, UK participation in these programmes has yet to be signed off.

This Insight explains what programmes the UK is supposed to be taking part in, how this will work and why it’s been delayed.

What programmes should the UK be involved in?

Part Five of the TCA sets out general rules for UK participation in EU programmes. The actual programmes that the UK will participate in are to be set out in a separate protocol. This had not been adopted at the time the TCA was finalised, but a draft of the protocol was published alongside a joint declaration on UK participation (711 KB, PDF).

The draft protocol indicated the UK would be involved in:

The joint declaration explained that the protocol could not be finalised with the TCA, as the EU’s budget framework for 2021-2027 and corresponding EU legislation for programmes had not yet been adopted.

However, the declaration said that the protocol had been agreed in principle (together with a second one on UK access to services under EU space programmes) and would be adopted by the Specialised Committee on UK Participation in EU Programmes set up by the TCA.

Conditions for participation

The UK will participate based on “associated” or “third country” rules. In many ways this means the UK will be able to participate as if it was an EU Member State. But there are some exceptions.

The UK will have to pay to take part in EU programmes. The main component is an operational contribution, based on the ratio of the UK’s GDP to the EU’s GDP. This is currently around 15.6%. Whatever the EU’s budget is for a particular programme, the UK will have to add that percentage.

There will also be various adjustments in place. These include a correction mechanism if the UK receives above or below a certain level of programme funds.

There is also a participation fee, which will be calculated as a small percentage of the operational contribution.

While UK representatives will be able to attend EU committees that manage specific programmes, they are excluded from decision-making and won’t have voting rights.

EU bodies will be empowered to conduct reviews, audits and investigations within the UK, regarding the use of programme funds. The European Commission will be able to make enforceable decisions relating to UK recipients of funds. Funding agreements could also give the Court of Justice of the EU the power to make enforceable rulings applying to UK recipients.

Why has participation been delayed?

The declaration agreed alongside the TCA stated that the protocols on participation would be adopted by the Specialised Committee “at the earliest opportunity to allow their implementation as soon as possible”.

The EU adopted its long term budget in December 2020 and the legislation for the programmes in April and May 2021.

Meetings of the various governance bodies for the TCA were initially delayed because the agreement was not fully applied by the UK and EU until 1 May. Although most have since met, the Specialised Committee for EU programmes has yet to do so.

The European Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Mariya Gabriel has suggested that other wider political issues between the UK and EU would need to be settled before UK association to EU programmes could be formalised. She referred specifically to differences over UK implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement.

UK exclusion from the Horizon Europe programme is among options reportedly being considered by the EU as retaliation if the UK uses the Article 16 provision to suspend aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol. It was reported in October 2021 that France was also seeking to link the granting of fishing licenses to approval of UK involvement in EU programmes.

Impact of delay

In October, a House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee report expressed concern about the impact of the delay. It said this raised issues about the balance of benefits for the UK in participating in the programmes, with opportunities being lost to take part in certain projects.

Speaking to the Committee in October, the Brexit Minister Lord Frost said the EU could be in breach of the TCA by not moving to adopt the protocol on UK participation. He cited Article 710 of the TCA that the protocol “shall” be agreed and adopted. He said that there could come a point where the “value-for-money case” for UK participation in the programmes became less compelling than in was at the outset.

Horizon Europe is the largest of the programmes, in terms of funding. The Government has said its contribution to it could be around £15 billion over seven years. UK-based researchers received 12.1% of the total funding its predecessor programme, Horizon 2020 (the second highest in the EU). UK based organisations have been allowed to bid for funds under the new programmes ahead of formal UK association. But agreements on funding cannot be signed off until association is confirmed, causing uncertainty for researchers.

In the October 2021 Spending Review statement, the Government said that if the UK could not take part in Horizon Europe, funding would go to UK Government research and development programmes “including those to support new international partnerships” (3.6MB, PDF).

Further reading

House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, Brexit divorce bill and UK participation in EU programmes: how much and who pays?, HC 815, 25 October 2021.

The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement: governance and dispute settlement, House of Commons Library.

Research and Development funding policy, House of Commons Library.


About the author: Stefano Fella is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in Brexit.

Image: Copernicus Sentinel-6A, Airbus Defence and Space/L. Engelhardt

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