The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) publishes today a briefing considering the impacts that the UK leaving the European Union’s transition period may have on energy, environmental and nuclear policy. With the UK Prime Minister and the Chair of the European Commission failing to make any breakthrough on talks last night, and both sides admitting there is considerable distance between their respective positions, a ‘no deal’ Brexit is becoming increasingly likely. (1)
Whilst it is difficult to give definitive answers on what all the impacts of Brexit will be on the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the wider member of the European Union, the NFLA report focuses on a number of areas of concern across the areas of policy in its remit.
Some of the core points of the NFLA briefing include:
- The ‘Greener UK’ coalition of groups have run a ‘risk tracker’ on the impact of Brexit on UK environmental legislation. Overall, the Risk Tracker concludes that it is difficult to see a particularly positive outcome for the environment should the current pattern of negotiations continue.
- The biggest issue of a no-deal could be the risk to the UK’s energy security. At times of high demand such as in a particularly harsh cold winter, the EU is likely to prioritise supply to its members which could, in turn, put added strain on UK supplies. On the upside, a no-deal Brexit could force the UK government to invest more in the nation’s energy infrastructure.
- The UK currently imports more than half its gas. A portion of this is shipped to the UK in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The large number of LNG shipments arriving in the UK is driven in part by subdued demand in Asia, resulting in shipments being re-routed, and also by increased exports from new terminals in countries, such as the USA and Russia, but the ability of LNG to be shipped globally means that prices and supply can be less predictable.
- Net electricity imports currently account for around 7.5% of UK total electricity demands, coming from France and the Netherlands. A ‘no deal’ Brexit could leave the UK more vulnerable to supply disruption or wholesale price increases.
- Primarily, the risk of a no-deal Brexit heaps more uncertainty on UK businesses during a period where it is already extremely difficult to accurately predict what is on the horizon for the energy market.
- The UK also has both electrical and gas interconnections with Ireland, though these are used mainly to export energy. In a worst-case scenario, leaving the EU Internal Energy Market (IEM) without the right agreement in place could also mean an end to the Irish Single Energy Market (ISEM), the ‘all-island’ market which has been hailed as a great success, and enables efficient and cost-effective energy flow between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
- The UK Treasury has said that if “a link cannot be agreed”, the UK would either establish a standalone carbon trading system or a carbon emissions tax from January 1. It has proposed that a carbon tax in its first two years be broadly calculated based on the average EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) price in 2021 and 2022. Some of the U.K.’s biggest emitters are lobbying against a carbon tax, saying it would put them at a competitive disadvantage to EU rivals. They are more comfortable with an ETS, since they’ve had to deal with the EU system since 2005.
- As part of its preparations for Brexit, the UK Government announced its commitment to leaving Euratom. The Euratom treaty includes the provision of safeguards arrangements for non-proliferation of nuclear materials. Whilst it looks like the Office for Nuclear Regulation has all procedures in place for regulating a domestic safeguards regime, the new arrangements which will come into effect on 1st January 2021 are effectively ‘mark-your-own-homework’ safeguards arrangements, with IAEA oversight.
- As part of the Brexit process, the UK Government has decided to leave an international project developing a nuclear fusion reactor. The UK Atomic Energy Authority has recently started a process to seek a hundred hectares site in England for an experimental fusion reactor. The NFLA argues such a development would be an expensive development to move forward with. It would also have no low carbon benefits in the required urgent time available to tackle the climate emergency over the next two decades. (2)
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“Whatever the rights or wrongs around Brexit, the lack of an effective deal between the UK Government and the European Union has been destabilising for the wider economy, and some of the economic impacts have been hardened by the problems created by the Covid-19 pandemic. This report notes there is a wide range of uncertainties that still exist whether a deal can be struck between both parties or not. January 2021 is likely to be a very bumpy start to the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, and considerable uncertainty remains as to how some of these real concerns will play out, affecting energy supply, environmental protection and business planning. NFLA urges both parties to find a deal as quickly as possible.”
NFLA All Ireland Sustainable Energy Forum Chair, Councillor David Healy said:
“A ‘no deal’ Brexit is likely to have very negative impacts on the island of Ireland. I remain highly concerned that one of its consequences could be the inadvertent collapse of the Irish Single Energy Market. This has been a great success since it was created, and if it was ended could mean energy prices in Ireland and Northern Ireland could rise. I call on the UK and Irish Governments with the European Commission to address this issue as part of finding a sensible and practical way forward. Energy market instability is no good to anyone.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes to Editors:
(1) NFLA Policy Briefing 210 on the impacts of Brexit on energy, environmental and nuclear policy is attached with this media release, and will be on the homepage of the NFLA website –
(2) NFLA New Nuclear Monitor 62, September 2020