The government’s spin doctors are in overdrive, exalting in the brilliant news that the UK is finally back in Horizon. As though this is some triumph for Rishi Sunak, the Conservative Party and the country.
It is none of those things. Let me explain.
Horizon is a multi-billion-pound-a-year scientific cooperation scheme that links the best minds, laboratories and researchers across Europe and beyond. It is a hugely successful EU programme that is a force multiplier. Universities fight like cats in a sack for the honour, the prestige and the money involved.
It is also a programme in which the UK has a natural advantage. Our university system is strong (if expensive for participants). Our academics are highly rated and produce numerous research papers. Three of our universities – Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial – are recognised to be in the world’s top ten for research and University College London cannot be far behind.
A German business leader told me recently that getting access to just those institutions made Horizon a no-brainer for him, his business sector and the EU. It was, in short, one of the very few areas of Brexit where we did have an advantage in Europe.
So what did Brexit Britain do? It threw away that advantage.
Initially, we did manage to retain access to Horizon post-Brexit and that news was greeted with cheers of relief by academics, higher education institutions and business. It was about the only part of the TCA negotiations which did work in the UK’s favour.
And then Boris Johnson, who also negotiated the rest of the TCA deal with David Frost, woke up almost the day after it was signed and started lying through his teeth about it and the border down the Irish Sea that he had agreed with Brussels.
He threatened not to implement it, to break international law and tear it up, to threaten the Good Friday Agreement and to side with the DUP and the backbench Brexit ultras, against his own deal.
The fact is he was either too lazy, too stupid, or most probably too callous to care what keeping Northern Ireland in the single market meant and so he tried to sabotage his own deal, while the ink was still wet on his signature.
As a result, the EU, quite rightly, decided that the Johnson administration was not to be trusted and suspended the UK’s membership of Horizon. Scientists and academics have been pulling their hair out ever since, some have left the country, two years of progress and money has been lost. All because of Boris Johnson.
It only took his removal for the logjam to clear. The Windsor Framework was agreed to calm the waters and the UK was allowed back into Horizon as a reward. Only for Sunak to waste months haggling over money and threatening to go it alone with some alternative British research scheme, which would have been a pale imitation of Horizon.
The negotiations and the face-saving delays have taken months. Even New Zealand managed to join Horizon before we rejoined it.
But at least we are back in, with our excellent universities we have always got more out of Horizon than we put in. It is a huge supporter of British industry, new technologies and green research, it is just where the UK needs to be and where it should have been all along.
As for the rest? It should never have happened.
It was an appalling stupid self-inflicted injury by Brexiteers that has cost British researchers and universities two years of work, excluded them from numerous projects and all for nothing.
The delays caused by Sunak after the Windsor Framework were totally unnecessary and pointless. The simple fact is that this has been just another cost of Johnson’s administration.
And that means the government deserves zero credit for finally seeing the light and finally getting round to doing the obvious.
Being a lying, lazy, selfish, buffoon is OK if you are a newspaper columnist, but it matters when you are PM. No one trusts you, no one trusts your government, no one trusts your country, you get punished, others feel the pain.
If only everything else was as easy to put right as Horizon has been, we would be in a much better place.
But most of the damage done by Johnson, the Tories and Brexit is irreparable, permanent, and painful and that is not going to change.