Damian Green rejects 'scaremongering' warnings about quitting EU nuclear body
Damian Green has hit back at “scaremongering” claims that quitting Euratom could threaten cancer treatment, amid growing Tory pressure to stay members of the EU’s nuclear regulator.
The Royal College of Radiologists has said it is “seriously concerned” about the future availability of radioactive isotopes if, as Theresa May set out in her Article 50 letter, the UK leaves Euratom at the same time as it leaves the European Union.
The Government has said it wants to retain cooperation with Euratom, and has mooted options including associate membership of Euratom, but it is facing calls from Tory backbenchers to rethink its stance.
Mr Green, who was filling in for Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions, was challenged on the Royal College’s warnings by Labour MP Pat McFadden.
The First Secretary of State said he wanted to “clear up” the issue – though he stopped short of outlining whether Britain would seek to remain in the body.
“There has been some unnecessary worry caused to cancer patients by speculating on this,” he said.
“Let me set out the position: the import or export of medical radio isotopes is not subject to any Euratom licencing requirements.
“Euratom places no restrictions on exports to countries outside the EU so after leaving Euratom our ability to access medical isotopes produced in Europe will not be affected... I hope that clears up and I hope reassures cancer patients around the country that the scaremongering that is going on is unnecessary.”
Former minister Ed Vaizey today said no formal impact assessment had been conducted into the effects of leaving Euratom on jobs, research, energy supplies and medicine – something that was later confirmed by a spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
“Although no formal impact assessment was carried out, government did assess the impact; the nuclear industry, the R&D community and the Office for Nuclear Regulation will all confirm this as the Government is in continuous dialogue with the industry on this,” the spokeswoman told the Evening Standard.
European Commission guidance has previously suggested that the UK would have to quit Euratom as a result of Brexit, although it remains an issue of intense legal wrangling.
Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate earlier today, Mr Vaizey called on the Government to release the legal advice on which it based the decision to leave.
“It is certainly the case that those of us who wish to remain in Euratom will be seeking our own legal advice, but it would be nice to know where the Government stand as on this point,” the Conservative MP said.
EURATOM SAFEGUARDS ‘ABSOLUTELY VITAL’
Trudy Harrison, the Conservative MP for Copeland, which contains the Sellafield nuclear site, called on ministers to ensure the safeguards provided for the UK’s nuclear industry by Euratom remain in place.
“Ensuring continued membership of the Euratom treaty or swiftly acting to developing an alternative to be place upon leaving the European Union, or as part of a planned transitional period is absolutely vital,” she said in the same debate.
Elsewhere, Tory backbencher John Howell said retaining full membership of Euratom provided the “best continuity” to Britain’s nuclear programme.
“I don’t believe the legal issues are as black and white as have been set out, however associate membership is a perfectly acceptable compromise and that is associate membership with bespoke terms,” he said.
Conservative MP Richard Graham sought assurances that the Government would “pursue a solution that replicates the benefits of Euratom membership as closely as possible”.
Mr Green’s comments echoed those of Energy minister Richard Harrington, who earlier distanced the Government’s position from “alarmist stories” in the press.
He said “continuity” was necessary and that the UK “must avoid a break in our safeguard regime”.
“There have been some alarmist stories in the press recently about what Euratom recently about what Euratom what mean for safety and for health.
“I must make it clear that we remain committed to the highest standards of nuclear safety and support for the industry,” he said.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe