Was politics better when it was boring?
The Nuclear Industry Association's Rupert Lewis tries to make sense of the UK's changing political landscape and takes some comfort from DECC Secretary Amber Rudd's recent statement: 'We remain committed to new nuclear power in the UK – to provide clean, secure energy'.
In the weeks leading up to the referendum I was desperate to talk to people about the referendum, and the answer I got from friends and colleagues was, “not everything is about the referendum!” Well now it really is, economies around the world tanked, largely because the markets bet against a vote to leave, the future of the United Kingdom could be in jeopardy and everything is shrouded in uncertainty. Even the idea that the UK will actually leave the EU.
The Prime Minster, the Chancellor and others including Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd have said “to be clear, Britain will leave the EU.” But what happens if a snap election is called and a pro-EU Prime Minister is installed and reverses the decision or puts a Brexit deal to another referendum? It may be unlikely but if two years ago you told anyone the UK would have voted to leave the EU, Jeremy Corbyn would be leading the Labour party, Donald Trump would have a serious chance of replacing President Obama and Iceland would knock out…
So what happens now? At the moment nothing, despite Westminster tearing itself apart, the UK remains a member of the European Union for at least another two years and in theory it is business as usual. The pound is recovering from an initial crash and markets will re-balance as more and more statements come from Governments across the world designed to firm up what Brexit really means.
For the business community it looks as though the UK will have access to the single market, although whether that is tariff free like Norway or more like the US with no deal remains uncertain; although likely to be somewhere in the middle. Simply because I don’t think the EU will allow free access to the single market without some form of free movement of people, the most important issue for voters throughout the referendum campaign. Tory leadership contender, Stephen Crabb has outlined this as a red line and if Theresa May wants to defeat a Brexiteer, as a ‘remainer’, she will need to be firm on immigration just as she was in her last Tory conference speech.
While energy took up very little debate time throughout the course of the campaign, the division between the two leaders within the Department of Energy and Climate Change was clear. Amber Rudd infamously questioned Boris Johnson in an ITV debate and Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom led the charge at Wembley Arena for the Leave side. Now both have said the UK’s energy policy and the challenge remains the same, as Tom Greatrex said, “More than 24GW of generating capacity has come offline in the last six years and needs to be replaced, whether in or out of the EU.”
In her first speech after the result Amber Rudd said, “We will continue to invest in clean energy” and Andrea Leadsom told the Energy Committee, “In my view, as I was clear all the way through the campaign, for energy policy I don’t believe anything will change.” The more difficult issue now will be stabilising the markets and maintaining the mantra that the UK is a safe place to invest in.
For the nuclear new build programme, all three developers have set out their commitment to continue with each of their developments. Rudd has also set out the Government’s position, “We remain committed to new nuclear power in the UK – to provide clean, secure energy” adding “we made a clear commitment to acting on climate change in our manifesto last year.”
So for the time being all remains the same. Looking ahead, a new Tory leader (May, Leadsom, Gove, Fox or Crabb) will be in place in September, at which point, or very soon after, Brexit negotiations will formally begin. In such a fraught atmosphere a snap election is unlikely but not impossible; the new Prime Minster will more likely run on the deal he or she has negotiated. Meanwhile the future of the Labour leader remains uncertain, but with determined support from some grassroots activists Corbyn sees no need to go and as a result it is the future of the party which may be under threat. Who ever said politics was boring?