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The UK has prepared an “alternative” to the EU’s science programmes as negotiations over membership stall, the minister for science, research and innovation has said.

“We in this country voted to leave the European monetary and political union,” said George Freeman at the Financial Times’s Investing in Space conference on Thursday.

Freeman said the majority of his constituents voted to leave the EU, but “absolutely didn’t want to leave the European science, cultural, artistic, defence, security network”.

“There is a mechanism in the Northern Ireland protocol for dispute resolution, there is no mechanism for using Horizon, Euratom and Copernicus as a negotiating tool,” he said, in reference to EU science programmes.

Freeman on Wednesday visited Brussels in a last-ditch attempt to persuade the EU to unlock the UK’s participation, which was agreed as part of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

“Yesterday for the sixth time, I’ve been blocked from having any meetings with the Commission,” said Freeman. “If we are blocked from Copernicus, I’m determined we’ll make that an opportunity to invest the same money . . . and work with other countries and grow a really strong commercial earth observation sector,” he added.

The UK would move to “Plan B” if its membership to joint science projects was not resolved “in the next few weeks and months”, Freeman said. “We’ve been locked out for 18 months, I can’t allow our science and research and industrial sectors to be benched . . . without any security and confidence,” he added.



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