UK stresses key role of IAEA during Brexit debate

31 January 2017

The UK will seek an alternative agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) if it fails to negotiate "some sort of relationship" with the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) during Brexit negotiations, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis told the House of Commons today. The government is from today holding a debate in the lower house of the British parliament on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) bill that it unveiled last week.

The government announced its intention to leave Euratom within explanatory notes to the bill authorising Brexit that it published on 26 January. It published the bill after the Supreme Court ruled the previous week that parliament - not just the government alone - must vote to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will start the formal process of the UK leaving the EU. Prime Minister Theresa May has stated her government will begin the formal process of quitting the EU by the end of March.

The notes state the bill empowers the prime minister to leave both the European Union and Euratom.

Davis said today: "Euratom passes through to its constituent countries the regulations, rules and revision that it inherits, as it were, from the [IAEA], of which we are still a member. And when we come to negotiate with the European Union on this matter, if it's not possible to come to a conclusion, with some sort of relationship with Euratom, then we will no doubt be able to do one with the [IAEA], possibly the most respectable international body in the world."

He added: "Our aims are clear: we will maintain the closest possible nuclear cooperation with the European Union. That relationship could take a number of different forms and will be of course subject to negotiation, which will start after we have notified them" of the UK's intention to trigger Article 50 to exit the EU.

The 1957 Euratom Treaty governs the peaceful use of nuclear energy within the EU. The Euratom Community is a separate legal entity from the EU, but it is governed by the bloc's institutions.

At the start of the debate, Davis said: "The bill makes clear that in invoking Article 50, we will also be leaving Euratom - the agency established by treaty to ensure cooperation on nuclear matters - as well as leaving the European Union. This is because, although Euratom was established in a treaty separate to the EU agreements and treaties, it uses the same institutions as the European Union, including the [European] Court of Justice. That's why the 2008 EU Amendment Act makes clear that in UK law membership of the European Union includes Euratom and that's why Article 50 applies both to the European Union and Euratom."

The 2008 Act of Parliament Davis referred to gave effect in UK law to the Lisbon Treaty - an international agreement which amends the two treaties that form the constitutional basis of the EU and which entered into force on 1 December 2009.

The prospect of having to exit Euratom as part of Brexit "illustrates that the consequences of this bill go much further than the Secretary of State is telling us", said Scotland's former First Minister Alex Salmond. Salmond is now the Scottish National Party's international affairs and Europe spokesperson.

Referring to May's recent talks with Donald Trump, Salmond said: "Isn't the reason that the government finds itself in a position of such abasement to President Trump that they have decided to abandon the high ground of the single market in place without so much as a negotiating word being spoken? That's why they're desperate to do a deal with anybody on any terms at any time. Why did the Secretary leave this country in a position of such weakness?"

Davis responded that the UK could use its membership of the IAEA to continue international cooperation on nuclear matters.

Mark Pritchard, Conservative Party MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire, said Brexit "affords huge opportunities for international trade for global Britain". He added: "Part of that global trade is with the single European market. Whilst there may be access to the full market, a hybrid access, could the Secretary of State confirm that anything that introduces new taxes, tariffs or duties on British goods is not in our national economic interest?"

Davis replied: "The answer to that is, Yes."

John Woodcock, the Labour Co-operative Party MP for Barrow and Furness, said he would urge the government to "keep an open mind" on Euratom. Referring to NuGeneration's plan to build new nuclear power units in West Cumbria, Woodcock said: "There is a danger that there will be years of uncertainty, which could put at risk the 21,000 new jobs which are slated to come as part of the Moorside development, as well as many others across the UK."

Davis said: "I take the honourable gentleman's point absolutely. He's right, there are a lot of jobs involved, also our standing in the scientific community, also our international reputation, individual projects, like JET and Iter, all of those we will seek to preserve. We will have the most open mind possible."

JET - the Joint European Torus project - is the largest nuclear fusion experiment in the world. Based at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, JET involves some 350 scientists exploring the potential of fusion power, backed by funding from almost 40 countries in the EUROfusion consortium. The UK also participates in Iter, a collaboration of 35 nations to build a magnetic fusion device designed to prove the feasibility of the fusion of hydrogen nuclei as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy. The EU is funding half of the cost of Iter.

Davis added: "The difficulty that we face of course is that the Euratom Treaty is decided by unanimity, so we have to essentially win over the entire group. We will set out to do that and we will do it with the same aims as [Woodcock] describes."

Chris Philp, Conservative Party MP for Croydon South, asked for reassurance for scientists working in nuclear research in the UK. Philp referred to his correspondence with John Wheater, professor of physics at Oxford University.

Wheater is "concerned about the implications on his fusion research program and equally Euratom," Philp told Davis. "Is there any way we could postpone leaving Euratom by a year or two and if that's not possible, what assurance could the Secretary of State give to Professor Wheater and his colleagues?"

"There is a two-year timetable anyway," Davis replied, "but the Prime Minister has also said very clearly in her Industrial Strategy and in her speech on Brexit, that we intend to support the scientific community and build as much support for that as we can and we will negotiate - when we engage in the negotiations after March - with the European Union, with the aim of creating a mechanism which will allow this research to go on."

The bill is due to clear the Commons on 8 February, after which it will move to the upper chamber, the House of Lords.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News