Pressure mounts on government to agree nuclear Brexit deal

Pressure mounts on government to agree nuclear Brexit deal

The government is coming under increasing pressure from a cross-party coalition of MPs to guarantee protections for the nuclear industry ahead of a key amendment being debated as part of the EU Withdrawal Bill today.

Union and EU flags in front of the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben), Westmister

122 MPs have now signed the cross-party amendment jointly tabled by BEIS Select Committee Chair Rachel Reeves and former Conservative minister Ed Vaizey. The amendment calls on the government to bring any new strategy for the nuclear industry ahead of the UK leaving the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) treaty to Parliament.

The debate is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon and has support from a number of leading Conservative MPs, such as Bob Neill, Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan.

Euratom is the treaty which governs radioactive material in Europe, funds research and allows members to trade with other countries. Since the UK triggered Article 50 there has been growing concern about the impact of Brexit on the nuclear industry. For example, the UK will need to agree new bilateral treaties, similar to trade deals, with any other country in which British nuclear business wishes to do business or co-operate with.

The Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has said that it will be unable to replicate Euratom level safeguard protections by the time the UK leaves the European Union in March 2019. The amendment, and campaigners, are calling on ministers to secure a transition period to ensure new protections can be put in place.

The medical industry has also raised concerns about the use of medical isotopes in treatments if a new deal for nuclear is not agreed to replace the UK’s membership of Euratom.

Prospect, the largest union for nuclear engineers and specialists, has been campaigning for greater clarity on what Brexit will mean for the nuclear industry.

Sue Ferns Prospect deputy general secretary said: “The nuclear industry is a significant employer of highly-skilled good jobs in many parts of the country. These jobs make a real difference to many communities, directly and through putting money into local businesses.

“Britain is a world-leader in nuclear skills and jobs.  The risks of leaving Euratom without a deal are simply to great and could make it much more difficult to trade and maintain our competitive edge.

“Prospect is calling for guarantees on nuclear safety, research and collaboration and funding.”

Nearly 80,000 jobs in the UK rely on the nuclear industry, many of them in rural and coastal areas, that would struggle to provide alternative high-skilled work if Brexit led to problems for the nuclear industry.

Industry figures and experts have been warning against leaving the Euratom treaty without any detailed information about any new strategy.

Amendment 300 would guarantee that any proposals put forward would be brought before Parliament.

There are still a number of Conservative MPs with large numbers of constituents who are yet to back the amendment.

Prospect members in those areas have been urging them to sign amendment 300.