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Government must to act to end Brexit risk to the nuclear industry

3 min read

Labour MP Albert Owen writes ahead of his parliamentary debate on 'Negotiations on future Euratom membership'. 

On Wednesday 12th July I will open a debate in the House of Commons entitled ‘Negotiations on future Euratom membership’. In doing so I will ask the Government to act in order to provide safeguards on its decision to withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and not put at risk vital aspects of the global nuclear industry and the impact that will have on the industry in the UK.

As a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee I heard evidence of the risks from a variety of sources. Our inquiry concluded that the impact of Brexit on Euratom have not been thought through and the government has failed to consider the potentially disastrous ramifications for the nuclear industry.

Listening to the evidence, I supported our committee’s conclusions linking the departure from Euratom and our withdrawal from the EU as a political decision and a consequence of the Prime Minister’s objective of ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK.

The Government is adamant that it has received legal advice that the UK’s exit from Euratom is an inevitability of triggering Article 50 to exit the EU and adhere to its timetable of two years.

However, I have heard evidence to the contrary that there is no legal necessity to trigger an exit from Euratom now. Moreover, there is a view held by legal experts that it is possible legally to de-couple the EU and Euratom treaties based on the fact that while they share institutions the two are separate legal instruments.

While legal arguments are diametrically opposed, a way forward is needed and two clear options emerge:

Firstly, Alternative Membership under Article 206 of the Euratom Treaty. This allows the UK to leave Euratom, but continue co-operation and establish an association involving “reciprocal rights and obligations, common action and special procedures.”

Such alternative membership is enjoyed by Switzerland, allowing it to access money to fund nuclear research.

The second option is Third Country Membership under Article 101 of the Euratom Treaty. This is more limiting in its scope regarding powers and jurisdiction but allows “entry into obligations by concluding agreements or contracts with a third state, an international organisation or a national of a third state.”

If the UK were to become a Third Country Member it would join Japan, the US and Canada and set up common interest topics in the sphere of research and co-operate on a shared costs basis. However this option would not automatically allow the UK to be a member of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project.

Either option would avoid a “cliff edge” scenario and while the nuclear industry favours continued membership of Euratom beyond the two year period, Associated Membership and Third Country Membership does allow for transitional arrangements until voluntary agreements for the long term are reached.

Without transitional arrangements the civil nuclear industry is at risk in areas of design, non-proliferation and nuclear trade as well as research areas that, in co-operation with others, the UK has led the way. The Government needs to act and I look forward to their reply to the debate and to ensuring the UK remains the world leader.


Albert Owen has been the Labour MP for Ynys Môn since 2001, is a former member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, BEIS committee and is also vice chair of the APPG on Nuclear Energy.

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