Open Britain Background Briefing: The Government’s technical notes on “functionality and Protocol 7”, “spent fuel and radioactive waste”, and & “existing contracts for the supply of nuclear material”

Overview

On Bank Holiday Monday (28 August 2017) the Government unexpectedly published three Brexit technical notes on “functionality and Protocol 7”, “spent fuel and radioactive waste”, and “existing contracts for the supply of nuclear material” as updates to position papers on the same topics published on 13 July. These papers can all be found here: Existing contracts for the supply of nuclear materialSpent fuel & radioactive waste; functionality & protocol 7 

Open Britain’s position:

The Government has addressed some important points in these three technical notes, which should be welcomed. However, the fact that these papers are being released now raises serious questions as to why the Government did not include these details in their original position papers published on 13 July. Given that the referendum took place 14 ½ months ago, it is frankly amateurish that the Government are taking this long to formulate adequate policy position papers, when the Brexit clock is ticking and the negotiations appear to be losing momentum.

Specifically on nuclear issues, the Government again needs to properly justify its decision to take the UK out of Euratom, despite the serious problems which this would cause for nuclear safety as well as security of energy supply. 

In Detail

Technical Note: Functionality and protocol 7

The Government's position paper entitled "Technical Note: Functionality and Protocol 7" raises a number of questions relating to privileges and immunities for EU officials and institutions post-Brexit. Specifically, it raises questions about the status of EU institutions and agencies, MEPs, representatives of EU member states, EU officials and other servants, and the UK's permanent representation to the EU. 

Government’s position: In short, the position paper asks the EU to clarify how the existing privileges and immunities extended to these officials, agencies and institutions will function post-Brexit without providing any of its own demands.     

Open Britain’s position: Open Britain asks why the Government has not formulated its own answers to the questions it raises, rather than asking the EU to do this work for them? Such a clear lack of preparation further exposes the Government's confused approach to the Brexit negotiations, and raises serious questions about their apparent lack of preparation. 

Technical note: Existing contracts for the supply of nuclear material

This technical note has been published by the Government with a view to providing further clarity on its paper on ‘Nuclear materials and safeguard issues’ which was published on 13 July 2017 and can be found here

Government’s position: The Government explains that it is seeking clarity on the validity of nuclear supply contracts which will be approved prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU but where the supply period extends beyond this date. The Government explains that this is an issue which many operators (including those from the EU27) have raised, noting that both the UK and EU27 should look to minimise uncertainty. The Government notes that under Euratom arrangements, “these contracts are subject to approval by the Euratom Supply Agency, and, in some cases, by the European Commission.”

Open Britain’s position: While it should be welcomed that the Government has raised issues which are of importance to nuclear suppliers and thus the wider energy market, serious questions need to be asked as to why these questions are only being considered now and were not raised in the negotiating paper which the Government published on 13 July 2017. 

The referendum was 14 ½ months ago and the Government should have had ample time to address these issues. It is instructive that these questions are only being considered, it appears, due to business lobbying rather than Whitehall foresight. The Government should now seriously consider keeping the UK inside Euratom to ensure stability and regulatory clarity going forward. Energy security in this country must not be put at risk by Brexit.

Technical note: Spent fuel and radioactive waste

This technical note has been published by the Government with a view to updating its paper on ‘Nuclear materials and safeguard issues’ which was published on 13 July 2017.

Government’s position: This particular technical note is aimed at underlying the point set out by the Government in its position paper of 13 July 2017 that spent fuel and radioactive waste should remain the responsibility of the state in which it was generated. The Government underlines that it remains committed to “discharging its responsibilities” as regards spent fuel and nuclear waste generated in the UK and “would expect reciprocal assurances” from the EU27. The Government also notes that if any dispute were to arise then a dispute mechanism for such provisions would need to be included in the withdrawal agreement. 

Open Britain: The Government’s position underlines the fact that it intends to commit to meeting its responsibilities as regards nuclear waste and spent fuel, which should be welcomed. However, it should also be underlined that a lot of this upheaval could be avoided by keeping the country in Euratom, thus negating the need to address these issues in the first place. Separately, the fact that the Government raises the need for a dispute settlement mechanism, whilst having failed to propose a desired dispute settlement approach in the very paper on dispute settlement last week (this paper can be found here and Open Britain’s assessment thereof can be found here) leaves more questions unanswered.