BEIS committee to scrutinise Euratom exit

New committee chair promises probe while trade body insists government still “has time” to review its contentious position

The newly elected chair of parliament’s business select committee has pledged to make an inquiry into the government’s plans to leave Euratom one of her top priorities.

Rachel Reeves, who was voted chair of the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee last week, said in a BBC radio interview that she wanted to hold a probe into Britain’s departure from the pan-European nuclear energy community.

Reeves, who is a former shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, described the nuclear sector as “hugely important” to the UK economy.

She said: “We need to do an inquiry into Euratom because 65,000 jobs are in the civil nuclear sector.

“When we are up and running, I want to do an inquiry into this because so many jobs and research depends on it.”

She made her comments as the European Commission published its position paper on negotiations into the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom, which kicked off today (Monday).

In its position paper, the commission states that the Euratom treaty will cease to apply to Britain from the date when the UK withdraws from the EU.

The Commission says that Euratom property and equipment on British soil, which is used to help discharge its nuclear safeguarding responsibilities, will be transferred to the UK government. And the Brussels paper says that the UK will have to pay compensation.

It says that the safeguarding of the UK’s nuclear materials and Labour will be a solely British responsibility but makes no mention of any future co-operation between the UK and Euratom on such issues.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industries Association, said the Commission’s paper highlighted the complexities created by the government’s decision to withdraw from Euratom.

He also insisted that “there is still time for the government to review their exiting Euratom position and explore the alternative options available”.

Greatrex said: “The complexity of the issue is clear from the paper and while resolving safeguarding matters and the ownership of fissile nuclear material before March 2019 is a critical one, it is just the first of a series of issues that must be resolved”.

In parallel with this “intricate” negotiation, Greatrex observed that government must “establish a new UK safeguarding regime, replicate the current trading arrangement with the Euratom Community, ratify new Nuclear Co-Operation Agreements with key nuclear markets outside of Euratom, establish a new funding regime for the UK to continue its involvement in world-leading nuclear research and development, and ensure the mobility of nuclear specific skills to and from the UK”.

He added: “The Commission makes it clear that the UK will not be part of Euratom ‘on the date of withdrawal’ from the EU”.

“The clock is ticking and there is still time for the government to review their exiting Euratom position and explore the alternative options available, including associate membership or at the very least a transitional period to avoid the cliff edge scenario both the government and industry want to avoid.”