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Why would Britain ever want to leave Euratom?

Britain’s participation in the European atomic energy community hangs in the balance as Tory rebels wage war. But does any of it really matter?

By Nathan Simpson

Of all the many European collaborations threatened by Brexit, the UK’s membership of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) might seem a strange field for Tory rebels to pick for their first battle. Whilst it appears to exist outside a political sphere, there is little that can escape becoming embroiled in the quagmire of Brexit negotiations. Euratom has become yet another point of political contention.

The community itself, which came into being through legislation amended by EEC in 1958, ‘helps to pool knowledge, infrastructure and funding of nuclear energy’. This explains its official legal summary, which is to ‘ensure the security of atomic energy supply within the framework of a centralised monitoring system.’

So why would Britain want to leave this cohesive community that aims to regulate and further our knowledge of a potentially hazardous topic?

The Nuclear Industry Association certainly has no interest in ceasing contact with their European counterparts. The industry is concerned that, without continued membership nor an agreement on associated status or transitional arrangements in place, there will be significant disruption to building and operating, alongside the decommissioning of nuclear power stations. Tom Greatrex, the Association’s chief executive, fears that the politics could interfere with scientific progress: “Leaving Euratom means replicating its administrative, practical and technical safeguarding obligations, negotiating nuclear specific trade agreements, and ensuring the UK’s involvement in Euratom R&D programmes.”

Evidently the industry experts are opposed to any legislative disruptions, but they are not the only concerned party. New polling released last Monday shows that only 10% of the UK public agree with the UK government’s decision to leave Euratom. The poll, undertaken by YouGov for the NIA, reveals that 56% of respondents want to remain in Euratom, only 10% believe we should leave the Treaty, and the remaining 34% is not sure.

With such an apparently clear mandate from the people and the industry, why do we find ourselves in such a complex situation regarding Euratom membership?

The Conservative party are perpetuating their ever-burgeoning stereotype as self-serving representatives of the people. Given Theresa May’s weakened mandate, one would be mistaken in thinking she must represent the people and their best interests. She is failing to recognise Euratom’s generation of 18.5% of Britain’s power.

In a week when Brexit Secretary David Davis and Home Secretary Amber Rudd continue to disagree about what the country fundamentally wants from the Brexit agreement, we cannot ignore that a political civil war is on the horizon, regardless of the people’s’ attitudes. If this is the first big debate facing prominent cabinet ministers, and they have yet to decide whether they want to pursue a deal or none at all, the future looks bleak for Brexit negotiations.

If nothing else, this debate represents a terrifying omen for the future. Euratom is a microcosm for the way future Brexit deals will be brokered, with the interests of a few maligning the opinions of the many. Given the lack of precedent Brexit inherently brings about, the Conservatives are carelessly leading Britain into a vacuum of their own self-interest.

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