The impact of Brexit on Euratom has “not been thought through” claims BEIS committee

MPs have urged the government to delay the UK’s exit from the Euratom nuclear co-operation framework, which they warn threatens to disrupt the country’s power supplies.

In a report, published this morning (May 2nd), the House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee concludes that remaining a member of Euratom (European Atomic Energy Community) in the long term is “politically unfeasible” for the UK, due to the government’s decision to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

If legally possible, the committee calls for a temporary extension to the UK’s membership of Euratom, in order to allow time for new arrangements to be put in place.

Any interval between the UK leaving Euratom and entering into secure alternative arrangements would severely inhibit nuclear trade and research and threaten power supplies, the MPs warn.

“Safeguarding nuclear energy is a public policy area with a unique level of risk and therefore requires a robust legal regime,” the report states.

Extending the UK’s membership would give the nuclear industry a “realistic window” to set up alternative arrangements, including safeguards and international nuclear cooperation agreements, in order to minimise disruptions to trade and threats to power supplies.

If the UK cannot remain in Euratom, the committee recommends that the government seeks a transitional agreement that may need to be longer than the three-year period proposed by the European Parliament.

The report says that the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom is “an unfortunate, and perhaps unforeseen” consequence of the prime minister’s decision to leave the ECJ’s jurisdiction, pointing out that the issue was hardy raised during last year’s EU referendum campaign.

Iain Wright, the outgoing chair of the committee, said: “The impact of Brexit on Euratom has not been thought through. The government has failed to consider the potentially severe ramifications of its Brexit objectives for the nuclear industry. Ministers must act as urgently as possible. The repercussions of failing to do so are huge. The continued operations of the UK nuclear industry are at risk.

“The prime minister has made it politically unfeasible to remain in Euratom, long term. The Government now has a responsibility to end the uncertainty hanging over the industry and ensure robust and stable arrangements to protect trade, boost research and development, and ensure safeguarding of the highest level.”

On the wider issue of continuing membership of the EU’s internal energy market (IEM), the committee calls for the continued access for the UK, with “no accompanying tariffs or barriers to trade”, including continued participation in the trading arrangements established by the European Network Codes in order to ensure the most efficient operation of UK interconnectors.

And the report recommends that the government should seek continued UK influence over the rules of the IEM. In particular, ministers are urged to explore continued full membership of the technical institutions for developing the IEM’s detailed rules.

The committee also recommends retaining membership of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) until at least 2020.

And it calls for prompt publication of the Clean Growth Plan, which has delayed since the end of 2016, in order to provide greater clarity on the government’s long term climate change and energy policy objectives.

Commenting on the committee report, Nuclear Industry Association chief executive Tom Greatrex said: “The UK nuclear industry has made it crystal clear to the Government that it needs to be working on replacement arrangements for Euratom and discussing a transitional period now, to prevent the cliff edge the select committee’s report warns against.

“The government needs to take those on board and get on with serious discussion to ensure robust alternative arrangements are set up, in a realistic timeframe, to minimise disruption to the UK’s nuclear industry both at home and in European markets.”