Catherine Bearder MEP writes…EURATOM: The wedge dividing the Tories’ ideological Brexit

The Tories’ division on Europe is widening. Nothing demonstrates this more than on one simple issue: EURATOM.

In Theresa May’s letter invoking Article 50 she confirmed that Brexit would mean more than Brexit as the UK would also withdraw from the European Atomic Community, a separate legal entity from the EU.

The UK, a country dependant on nuclear energy, relies heavily on EURATOM; our electricity generation, healthcare provision, scientific development, and nuclear safety are all closely intertwined with EURATOM’s regulatory regime.

Withdrawal could restrict the movement of nuclear materials, damaging scientific research and innovation (particularly in the development of future fusion power plants), and threatening the UK’s nuclear power supply.

What many won’t realise is that this could also restrict supply of key materials for radioactive cancer treatment. Dr Nicola Strickland, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, has already warned of the damage this could do to over 10,000 cancer patients being directly treated by imported radioactive isotopes and the increased cost burden this would place on an NHS already stretched for resources.

In perhaps the only area we agree, the Chief of the Vote Leave Campaign, Dominic Cummings, described the decision to leave EURATOM as (and I quote) “UNACCEPTABLE B******T”. Some Tory MPs have also signalled their opposition to withdrawing from EURATOM, enough to defeat Theresa May’s plans in Parliament. Whilst George Osborne, up to his usual mischief at the Evening Standard, let slip that Brexit Minister David Davis was open to Britain remaining party to the EURATOM Treaty but was overruled by Theresa May.

So just why is Theresa May intent on picking a fight on an issue which was never even mentioned during the referendum campaign?

The simple answer is pure ideological dogma.

The EURATOM Treaty has the European Court of Justice as the final arbiter of the treaty, a self-imposed red line for Theresa May and the Government. Their ideological opposition to the role of the ECJ as a court of arbitration is not only setting them on a path to defeat in Parliament, but also putting at risk radioactive treatment for cancer patients and power supply in the UK.

This is a battle the pro-Europeans can and must win. And it is a battle that can mark the start of a shift in the Government’s rigid negotiating position. However, to win it we must keep up the pressure on highlighting the absurdity of the Government’s stance.

With Labour also committing to remaining part of EURATOM (finally getting something right on Brexit!), a cross-party alliance can bring sense in the face of Theresa May’s senseless approach.

Be under no illusion, if Theresa May gets her way the last person in Britain will not need to turn out the lights, they’ll already be off.

* Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East and Leader of the European Parliament Liberal Democrat Group.

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  • Believe it or not, we had a nuclear industry before we signed up to Euratom. This is a topic which is being used as a killer argument by those who have no idea what they are talking about.
    Britain is a weapons state and we can do what we like. Euratom has cameras to watch in sensitive areas of our plants but they don’t (of course) have them in US plants and if they took their cameras away – so what?
    What is this nonsense about medical isotopes? Lots of countries aren’t in Euratom and have medical isotopes. We have our own nuclear regulator (although for many years the EU have been trying to bully us into closing it and to rely on them for nuclear regulation).
    Our nuclear trade with Europe has been one sided for years since our patriotic civil service decided to wipe out the British nuclear industry and hand over control to foreigners. If you don’t believe me find out who owns or controls all of our nuclear facilities.

  • Presumably the Tories will also drag us out of Eurovision as well??

  • Richard Easter 13th Jul '17 - 4:29pm

    The farce is the Tories hate the ECJ – which is an actual transparent court which anyone has recurse to because it undermines national sovereignty, and yet will happily sign us up for ISDS provisions in offshore secret arbitration, which only foreign multinationals can access, which undermines national sovereignty even more, because no British individual, trade union, NGO, or company (unless they have overseas bases) can ever use it. Farcical.

  • paul barker 13th Jul '17 - 4:34pm

    It seems to me that Mays position on Euratom is simply consistent. Its true that Euratom isnt literally “part” of The EU, its a parallel structure & that is the point. All the reasons why we love The EU & Nationalists hate it apply to Euratom as well.

  • Richard Easter – precisely. What nonsense to oppose the democratic ECJ but have no problem with the monstrously undemocratic ISDS provisions of recent trade agreements like the TTIP.

    Actually, in a perverse way I see hope in this Euratom shambles. It’s obvious that May & Co are completely out of their depth; when you’ve lost Dominic Cummings you really have lost it. Normally, when in a hole, the advice is to stop digging but it’s difficult to see how the Tories can in this case. Normally also, the Tories would dispatch a failing leader with clinical efficiency but no-one wants to pick up the poisoned chalice. So one likely outcome of this is that the Tories will lose their cherished (but entirely undeserved) reputation for knowing how best to run the economy.

    It also creates an attack avenue for Lib Dems. I don’t for a minute think most people (including myself) had a good idea of the issues before the vote. All we heard was two sides shouting at each other that it would be wonderful or dreadful as the case may be.

    So the opportunity is now to carefully and methodically pick holes in the many weak points in the Brexit case, not indulging in scare-mongering like the original campaign but sticking to established facts and reasonable deductions. The news flow is already doing this to some extent and will continue to do so but Lib Dems will do themselves a big favour if they position themselves as the voice of sanity.

  • Matt Dolman 13th Jul '17 - 5:51pm

    I think that political will in the UK will oblige May to compromise on Euratom. Energy is just too important. The question now is what the EU will let her do – Guy Verhofstadt was pretty clear yesterday.

  • i suspect to fix this the Tories will throw money at it; associate membership but additional bells and whistles to make it look like we are independent of it. Going forward I can see the Tories throwing money at all their problems; a bung here a sweet heart deal there. The only problem with that is someone has to pay for it, that will be the majority of us and brave Brexiteers are not exempt, in fact I expect them to be hit hardest. The young can leave not so much the old. The young need services less not so much the old. The old need the young to support them, best of luck with that if they have gone.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Jul '17 - 6:26pm

    “B******T” is two words.
    The Great Repeal Bill is not great.

  • Here’s an informative article by Andrew Duff (Liberal MEP 1999-2014)…

    Brexit and Euratom: No need to panic:

    Incipient panic about the future of Britain’s nuclear industry has rocketed Euratom into the Brexit headlines. In so doing, staggering ignorance is displayed by too many MPs and journalists about the basic facts of the matter. Lest we forget what it is we’re leaving before we leave it, therefore, here’s an explanation.

  • Jeff,
    Duff appears to be a career Euro politician with no nuclear credentials at all. He pens an authoritative piece without mentioning one name from the UK nuclear industry (in which I spent over 30 years).
    Despite many attempts, all rebuffed, the EU does not regulate the UK nuclear industry. Before we joined (as part of the EEC joining process) we managed, accounted for, protected and processed our SNM without their input at all.
    If the EU put any barrier at all on nuclear movements what do EDF propose loading into the core of their spiffing new station at Hinkley Point? Coal?
    Hey, if they’re really stuck they could make the fuel at Springfields Works near Preston.
    Oh, no, sorry it’s a French station (they all are now) so the fuel will come from France.
    We will be allowed to stand and watch and pay up.
    The suggestion that the citizens of the world (outside the jurisdiction of EURATOM) are dying like flies from cancer because there is only one maker of radioisotopes is worse than laughable, it’s the epitome of “fake news”.

  • Hmm – who should I believe on the topic of Radioactive Isotopes – a woman with a whole career in the area – Dr Nicola Strickland or Bob Palehorse? We dont need experts – now is not the time for them – lets go with Bob. Hurray for Bob

  • Bob – btw – if the EU does not regulate the UK Nuclear Industry – why do you think May wants us to leave Euratom? Maybe you and she dont understand the difference between regulation and arbitration.

  • Alistair,
    Strickland is the head of a professional body. She has no more responsibility for procurement of medical isotopes for the NHS than the chairman of the Institute of Chiropodists has for keeping the nation supplied with shoes.
    Believe who you like. It is easy to find an ‘expert’ or ‘evidence’ to prove what you wanted to prove in the first place. In fact it’s the way ‘fake news’ becomes ‘the truth’.
    Next time you bump into Strickland ask her where the other 165 sovereign states in the UN (apart from the 28 members of Euratom) get medical isotopes from.

    And Alistair,
    BTW the UK nuclear industry is regulated by the office of Nuclear Regulation and governed by the Nuclear Installations Act, the Radioactive Substances Act and the Ionising Radiation Regulations ( as well as a list of other lesser ones).
    Euratom is best described as an audit function for us as we are a weapons state and Safeguard our own SNM. Disconnecting from Euratom will have no effect at all.

  • Palehorse, this might just be me but surely having an auditor that oversees the various regulators is a positive thing? I think that having more oversight on something as safety critical as the nuclear industry is a very good thing.

  • Steven,

    There are 165 sovereign states who aren’t members of Euratom and who seem to get by, as did we for years and years.
    I suppose it depends on whether you don’t trust the`Chief Inspector of the Office of Nuclear Regulation but you do a Belgian with a clipboard (which is pretty much my experience).
    They install cameras in sensitive areas and do materials accountancy audits but that is really to stop non-weapons states from removing elements from their reactors and extracting SNM.
    It never has applied to us as we can move SNM and warheads around to our hearts content (except we only do it at night so the satellites can’t see).

  • Andrew McCaig 14th Jul '17 - 9:59am

    Meanwhile in other news it seems Tim was not “forced to resign” by some cabal of Lords at all…

    Perhaps we can have an article on this to give people a chance to withdraw their previous speculations on this?

  • @Andrew McCaig

    But that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that the Lib Dems forced out a leader for being a mainstream Christian. It might not have been done by a cabal of Lords, but it was done by a vocal minority of intolerant and ignorant people within the Lib Dems who smeared Farron from the outset.

  • Mark Johnston 14th Jul '17 - 12:19pm

    The EU does not allow membership of Euratom without membership of EU itself.

  • @ Angry Steve I agree, you have a point. The real question is why did Tim Farron come to that decision when he did ?

    I certainly remember the ‘Which bit of the sanctimonious, god-bothering, treacherous little s..t is there not to like?” emanating from the Clegg camp early in 2015. (George Easton, New Statesman, March, 2015).

    As an agnostic I fond that metro centric ‘sophistication’ highly illiberal and far too smart for this party’s good.

  • Andrew McCaig 14th Jul '17 - 1:37pm

    “The issue was that the Lib Dems forced out a leader for being a mainstream Christian.”

    That is an interpretation. I had seen little or no criticism of Tim for his Christian views from within the Party in between the Leadership campaign (when those views became public) and the start of the General Election. But there were clearly sections of the Press and people in the Labour Party that were just waiting for their moment, and Tim showed, to be honest, that he really was having trouble reconciling his personal version of Christianity with the mainstream view of the Liberal Democrats, even if he was careful not to try and influence or obstruct Party Policy. His statement suggested that he felt he had been forced to dissemble in the interests of the Party over his own view in the interviews, and I suspect that for a very moral person like Tim that simply became too much once he had time to think about it..

  • Most of those 167 sovereign states dont have nuclear reactors or power stations that need auditing. Another Brexiteer pretending we are equivalent to Albania or wherever when it is not (yet) the case. We helped to build Euratom for practical reasons- even from before we were in the EU – but we have to leave it for ideological reasons.

  • David Evershed 15th Jul '17 - 11:19am

    The First Secretary of State, Damian Green said at PMQs that Euratom has no restrictions on the movement of radioactive isotopes and suggestions otherwise are scaremongering.

    So it appears that Palehorse is right and Dr Nicola Strickland, president of the Royal College of Radiologists is wrong.

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