Britain and the European Union (EU) are edging closer to a deal on the UK’s re-entry into the Horizon Europe research programme.
Sources said negotiators have produced a draft document following months of talks, with Rishi Sunak expected to consider it in the coming days.
However, the prime minister could still reject the proposals over the price-tag of rejoining the £85bn scheme.
Sunak will be meeting EU chief Ursula von der Leyen in Lithuania next week, providing an opportunity for in-person talks on Horizon.
First reported by the Politico website, a Whitehall source confirmed to the PA news agency that a draft deal had been drawn up. They said: “The EU has moved a little on the money but not nearly as much as the PM wants.”
Sunak and the European Commission chief will be in Vilnius for the NATO summit on Tuesday, where they could meet one-on-one on the sidelines.
‘Welcoming sign of progress’
The UK was frozen out of associate membership of Horizon in a tit-for-tat retaliation over post-Brexit trading rules for Northern Ireland.
Talks resumed after Sunak and von der Leyen signed the Windsor Framework in February, thawing relations following the hostilities under Boris Johnson’s leadership.
Greg Clark, Commons Science, Innovation and Technology Committee chairman, said: “The reports that an agreement may soon be reached on the UK re-joining Horizon Europe are a welcome sign of progress. We look forward to examining any agreement that is reached.”
Scientists were also welcoming what would be a “major step forward”.
Professor Sarah Main, executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said: “This is an encouraging development. If confirmed, this raises the promising prospect of a deal within days, which would be the best of news for UK science.
“I urge the PM and European Commission president to secure this agreement, enabling researchers to get on with the vital role they play in improving people’s lives and livelihoods.”
‘Cutting edge EU research’
Horizon is a collaboration of Europe’s leading research institutes and technology companies.
Member states contribute funds, which are allocated to individuals or organisations on merit.
John Dickie, BusinessLDN chief executive, said: “Reports negotiators have reached a deal to secure the UK’s re-entry into the Horizon Europe research programme are very welcome.
“This breakthrough will support Britain’s position at the cutting-edge of research and development.
“Horizon led to 31,000 global collaborations, with nearly 2,000 businesses from across the country benefiting directly, including many smaller firms and start-ups.
“Russell Group universities alone won 1,400 grants worth €1.8bn – more than the whole of France – which was only made possible due to the UK’s association with Horizon.”
By Sam Blewett, PA Deputy Political Editor