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The Prime Minister’s Decision To Leave Euratom Shows She Is Willing To Put Ideology Above Jobs And Nuclear Safety

Jack Taylor via Getty Images

Brexit will involve the most complex and important set of international negotiations that Britain has faced since the Second World War. Our prosperity and the future of our industries depend upon the negotiations running smoothly and the Government securing a good deal. That’s why it is so worrying that the Government finds itself held back by the ideological obsessions and rigid mind-set of the Prime Minister.

Last weekend the former Chief of Staff to David Davis, James Chapman, revealed that the Government was ‘hamstrung’ by the Prime Minister’s red line that there will be no role for the European Court of Justice, or any court outside of Britain, in our future relationship with the EU. Labour’s Brexit team were not surprised by the revelation. With such an extreme stance on independent courts, it’s hard to come up with arrangements on trade and the recognition of common regulations that are based on the application and enforcement of rules. That means less trade and less co-operation with our European partners.

Just take a look at our membership of Euratom, the European agency which promotes nuclear research across Europe including the Culham Centre in Oxfordshire, which regulates the supply and transport of fissile materials across the EU and establishes uniform safety standards in the nuclear industry.

Euratom has provided a framework that has allowed Britain to become a world leader in nuclear research and which has enabled the safe and stable supply of fissile materials. It also plays a role in our NHS, and the Royal College of Radiologists has expressed concern that cancer patients could face delays in treatments if the supply of radioactive isotopes, used in scans and treatments, is threatened.

Euratom is a successful co-operative agency that works for Britain. That’s why Labour tried to amend the Article 50 Bill to keep Britain in Euratom and it is why the Nuclear Industry Association has made it ‘crystal clear’ to the Government that they want Britain to retain membership. But like so many sectors of the economy, the nuclear industry has been ignored by the Prime Minister and when she triggered Article 50 she also gave notice of her intention to leave Euratom.

It’s increasingly clear that this was a reckless decision. It wasn’t born of legal necessity. It wasn’t the result of a careful evaluation of needs of the British nuclear industry. Nor was it the result of considerations on how best to enforce nuclear safety. It was simply because the Euratom Treaty requires the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Frankly the national interest, access to cancer treatments, and the strength of British industries are far more important than the Prime Minister’s pet concerns. That is why Labour has called a debate today in Parliament on our membership of Euratom and why we will continue to put pressure on the Prime Minister to drop her opposition to Euratom and to put jobs and nuclear safety first.

But the Prime Minister also needs to go further and to end her unhelpful and unnecessary red line on the future role of the ECJ. If she does not, she will continue to run into the same problems when it comes to negotiating a whole range of vital issues in the Brexit process – from the rights of citizens and our future trade arrangements, to our continued role in common European agencies such as the European Medicines Agency.

Resolving these questions will require far greater flexibility over the future role of an EU-UK court like body. The Prime Minister’s failure to realise this has the potential to derail the whole Brexit process and to make it all but impossible to deliver a Brexit deal that is in the national interest.

The Prime Minister has asked other parties to come forward with policy ideas and solutions. She could start by dropping her obsession about the ECJ, adopting a more flexible approach and ending her opposition to Euratom membership. This is certainly one move that would receive support across the House.

Keir Starmer MP and Paul Blomfield MP are part of Labour’s Shadow Brexit team.