RESEARCH into dementia and other advances in science have been held back because of the length of time it has taken for the UK to regain lucrative funding lost after Brexit, the Sunday National has been told.

While there is relief that the UK is now rejoining the EU’s Horizon £82 billion research programme, there is widespread frustration and anger the process has taken so long.

Before Brexit, UK scientific ­researchers were extremely ­successful in attracting grants from the fund, which is the world’s largest transnational research and innovation ­programme. It supports international collaborations on vital research into cancer, infectious diseases, climate change, artificial intelligence and many other issues.

After Brexit, the UK was locked out of the fund leading to a haemorrhaging of talent and a halt to crucial projects. A UK Government pledge to replace the lost funding ­amounted to £1bn over 2021 and 2022 – ­one-quarter of what would have been expected from Horizon.

Losing access to Horizon meant the UK could not lead on projects as before and suffered a subsequent “brain drain”. Scientists believe that while the UK may be able to return to its previously leading position, it will take time because so much ground has been lost.

READ MORE: Brexit: Report lays bare damage inflicted on Scotland by EU exit

Professor Bart De Strooper, group leader of the UK Dementia Research Institute at University College London (UCL), told the Sunday National he was happy the UK had rejoined the Horizon programme but the delay had held back dementia research.

“A lot of damage has been done to trust in UK science and a lot of uncertainty and instability has been created over the last three years,” he said.

“I am a bit annoyed hearing these optimistic noises about how good it is that we are back as this is only a ­normalisation of something that should have been normalised years ago. It is nothing new. It is nothing exciting, to be honest, it is just overdue.

“We have also excluded ourselves from the whole post-doctoral Marie Curie Fellowship Programme and made it very difficult for Europeans to come and work in the UK. This has all harmed the international reputation of UK science.

“Attracting talent is still going to be difficult because the whole free movement of workers has fallen away so it is difficult for scientists to move from one laboratory to another and exchange expertise. Also recruiting professors from the continent is more complicated than it used to be – although that is independent from the Horizon Programme.”

De Strooper said it was difficult to calculate how much damage had been caused by the exclusion from Horizon but added it was never too late to start again.

“I am very optimistic about the flexibility and resilience of British science and I think we will catch up eventually,” he said.

READ MORE: Culture workers to call for urgent action to repair Brexit damage

Professor Sir John Hardy, of UCL’s Institute of Neurology, whose ­research has covered Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neuron ­disease, pointed out that a “very large number” of Horizon projects were led by the UK before Brexit.

“Our science was probably the strongest in Europe,” he said. “Now we are knocking on the door asking to rejoin projects we once led and which in many cases have prospered without us. Also, we have shown ­ourselves to be unreliable partners.”

Hardy said many projects involve researchers moving from lab to lab but this was now “a bureaucratic nightmare” because of Brexit.

He added: “We had about three years of funding loss as the ­promised fill-in money from the UK did not ­fully materialise. We are slipping back in the science league for these reasons and others.”

Hardy said the fundamental ­issue was because the UK is led by an ­“incredibly narrow” group of politicians and civil servants “who have no idea about anything in the real world” such as “science, medicine and the normal world of work”.

“Classics at Oxford is not a ­ training for running a modern ­country,” he said.

Andy Buckley, Professor of Particle Physics at the University of ­Glasgow, said that in his opinion the UK had suffered “major reputational ­damage” along with the loss of many academic staff after being excluded from Horizon.

READ MORE: New report exposes extreme damage Brexit has wreaked on UK trade

“The uncertainty over UK status made EU-based collaborators very wary of adding UK institutes as ­formal beneficiaries of their proposals, in case there was another policy change that sabotaged the research case,” he said. “I’ve encountered this personally.

“But equally important has been the brain-drain from the UK over those three years, with UK-based awardees of EU/ERC grants moving out to the EU in order to get the full benefit. We have lost a great many EU academic staff in these years, of the sort who were competitive bidders for these grants, and the UK visa changes (eg: high earning threshold on spousal visas) have dissuaded new early-career researchers from moving here.”

While the news that the UK is rejoining Horizon Europe was ­welcomed by Ian Boyd, Professor of Biology at the University of St ­Andrews, he said the time it had taken was “shameful”, with both the European Commission and the UK Government equally to blame.

“Science has been a pawn in a wider political game which both ­political systems should have had the maturity to prevent from happening,” he said. “It reflects a deep-seated disrespect for science among the political classes.”

A spokesperson for the UK Department for Science, Innovation and Technology said: “The UK Government has negotiated a bespoke deal in the UK’s national interest, which means that UK researchers and businesses can participate confidently in the world’s largest programme of research cooperation, worth more than £80bn.

“It was right that we took the time to get the right deal, getting into the detail and resisting pressure to ­accept a boilerplate agreement – ­ensuring our association with ­Horizon works for both researchers and the taxpayer.”