The UK government’s mandate for trade talks with the EU includes continuing with the EU’s Horizon Europe science programme after the Brexit transition period ends.
The £85 billion programme provides research funding to scientists, students and industry.
Horizon Europe will start from 2021 as a follow-up to Horizon 2020, which provided the UK with £1.52 billion in research grants.
The Royal Society president, professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, said that the government's commitment to pursuing continued participation was "very welcome" and that Europe's impressive standing in science relied on continued collaboration with the UK.
Speaking to BBC News, Ramakrishnan said: "We now need a quick start to negotiations and for the Treasury to use the Budget to recommit the funds that will make association possible”.
The news will go some way toward easing the fears of other research leaders who had been concerned that research collaboration could be used as leverage in trade talks.
In the document, prime minister Boris Johnson says that the UK will also “consider” participating in other science and technology programmes such as the Euratom nuclear research initiative, and the Copernicus EU Earth Observation programme.
The UK’s participation is nonetheless subject to the outcome of negotiations, but BBC News reports that the cabinet unanimously backed pursuing the closest possible relationship with the Horizon Europe initiative.
Former science minister, Chris Skidmore, who was removed from post in Johnson's recent cabinet reshuffle, had been involved in developing the government's plans for future research collaboration with the EU and hailed the news as an "encouraging first step".
Skidmore said: “We must push for full association membership, along the lines of the partnership that Israel has, and not think that [much looser] third country participation would be sufficient.
"I hope the entire sector will join with me [and campaign] in ensuring that we associate as soon as is practically possible.”
The timetable for trade negotiations and becoming associated with Horizon Europe is a tight one, with the Brexit transition period set to lapse on December 31 this year.
Assistant director of the Campaign for Science & Engineering [CASE], Dr Daniel Rathbone, recommended that the government takes measures to protect UK science while trade talks are ongoing, in order to avoid a cliff edge at the end of the year.
Dr Rathbone said: "Horizon Europe is due to start in January 2021. Therefore, in parallel with the negotiations, the government should develop plans to protect and stabilise UK science, and encourage talented EU scientists to stay in the UK, in the event that an agreement cannot be reached in time [by December 31].”