Utility Week

UTILITY Week 21st July 2017

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UTILITY WEEK | 21ST - 27TH JULY 2017 | 21 Policy & Regulation Analysis T heresa May made a high-profile appeal last week for greater consensus about how the UK approaches its impending exit from the EU. But if the prime minister really wanted to see cross-party agreement in action, she could have popped into parlia- ment's Westminster Hall last Wednesday, where a debate was taking place on the UK's membership of Euratom. However, May would not have been pleased by what she saw: Tory and opposi- tion MPs ganging up to out- line their opposition to her plan to quit the pan-European nuclear body. The debate's sponsor, Albert Owen (the MP for the north Wales constituency of Ynys Mon, which is the location of the Wylfa B nuclear plant), was in little doubt that poli- tics lay behind May's determinations to quit Euratom. "It isn't essential that we leave Euratom just because we are leaving the EU. We are leaving because Number 10 has a red line. It is a political reason, not a legal rea- son. Law is an excuse," he said. Richard Harrington, recently appointed energy minister, insisted that the UK had no option but to leave Euratom because of its "inseparable relationship" with the EU. He was backed by Bill Cash, the back- bench Conservative MP who has been cam- paigning against the EU since the early 1990s, when he made John Major's prime ministership a misery. He said the link was spelt out in the treaties that govern the UK's relationship with the trading bloc. However, several of Cash's backbench colleagues on the Conservative side were unconvinced that the picture is as black and white as he painted it. "Our membership of Euratom is separate to that of the EU," said Ed Vaizey – former culture minister, who co-authored a recent Sunday Telegraph column making the case for the UK's continued membership of Euratom. Bromley MP Bob Neill – an ex-barrister who is chair of the justice select committee, argued that the government should not treat legal advice as Holy Writ. "It wouldn't be the first time that government and [European] Commission legal advice has been proved to be wrong," he said, adding that given the "many benefits" the UK enjoyed thanks to Euratom membership, "ideological purity" should not get in the way of the UK's energy interests. "If legally we can remain, we should do so," he said. And if the government was putting so much store on its legal advice, it should be published, said Vaizey, who appealed to the government to publish a distilled version of its advice. Neill warned that if the government did not publish its advice, it was likely that its hand would be forced legally. "The likeli- hood is that an interested party might seek to litigate the matter. It would be much better for the government to seize the initiative." Alan Whitehead, Labour shadow spokes- man on energy, agreed that the legal position was not as clear as the government sug- gested. And he said the ramifications of the withdrawal from Euratom had not been fully explored by the government. As an example, he said, clauses in the government's Hinkley power station agreement meant the compa- nies involved in the project could walk away from the deal and demand up to £20 billion- worth of compensation if the UK le Eur- atom unilaterally. Since the debate, both the govern- ment and the Commission have published their position papers for the upcoming negotiations. The Commission is blunt that the Eur- atom treaty will cease to apply to the UK from the date the country withdraws from the EU. Its focus, however, is on the transfer of Euratom property and equipment, which Brussels says has to be paid for. Showdown over Euratom The government has confirmed that the UK will leave Euratom when it leaves the EU. But some MPs warn that such a move could be disastrous. David Blackman investigates. The safeguarding of the UK's nuclear materials will be this country's own respon- sibility. And Paul Blomfield, a Labour back- bencher, warned that withdrawing from Euratom would only be the start of the gov- ernment's complexities. Ministers would have to negotiate indi- vidual nuclear co-operation agreements with all of its nuclear partners outside of the EU, which would be "complex" and "lengthy" to achieve within the 20 months le until the UK leaves the EU. He questioned why the government wanted to add to its existing Brexit burdens by taking on this task. Enough Tory backbenchers spoke out against the government's Euratom with- drawal plans last week to suggest that they are unlikely to emerge unscathed when the bill goes through the Commons. At the very least, it is clear that to assuage these concerns ministers will have to start coming up with some more convincing responses than they have up until now. "The likelihood is that an interested party might seek to litigate the matter. It would be much better for the government to seize the initiative." Main priorities of Euratom • Support safety of nuclear systems. • Contribute to the development of safe longer-term solutions for the management of ultimate radioactive waste – which is not likely to be treated further. • Support the development and sustainabil- ity of EU nuclear expertise and excellence. • Support radiation protection and develop- ment of medical applications of radiation, including, inter alia, the secure and safe supply and use of radioisotopes. • Move toward demonstration of feasibility of fusion as a power source by exploiting existing and future fusion facilities. • Lay the foundations for future fusion power plants by developing materials, technologies and conceptual design. • Promote innovation and industrial com- petitiveness. • Ensure availability and use of research infrastructures of pan-European relevance.

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