This week we debated the issue of the UK’s membership of Euratom, Europe’s nuclear energy body.
My view is that unless we can promptly secure an equivalent associate status, such as that enjoyed by Switzerland, it is in Cheltenham’s interests that the UK stays in.
But what exactly is Euratom? You might well ask. After all, this is not an issue which a single voter asked me about during the EU referendum. In essence Euratom is a legal community which facilitates the frictionless transfer of nuclear specialists, fuel and waste between EU states and Switzerland. That’s important for industry (we host Europe’s largest nuclear fusion reactor) but also healthcare. Because we don’t have the domestic capacity to produce medical isotopes, cancer centres like Cheltenham General Hospital indirectly benefit from our membership. It also allows the UK to have access to over 70% of global uranium production.
So what’s the problem?
The sticking point is that the EU and Euratom both fall under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Crucially however, they do so in an entirely different way. Whilst the ECJ has been guilty of political mission-creep in its EU area of competence, that criticism does not apply on nuclear matters. The Euratom ECJ is a dry and arcane world of safety standards and non-proliferation checks. Politics is absent. And retaining this niche jurisdiction would not, as I pointed out in Parliament, preclude us from striking trade deals of our own post-Brexit.
So there is no need for dogma on this. It’s in our national interest that we get an equivalent associate membership or stay.
Here in Cheltenham I sat down with Gloucestershire County Council’s Lead on Highways this week. I made clear that Cheltenham expects to get a good deal for our roads and pavements from GCC’s new multi-million pound ‘pothole fund’. We’ve seen good progress over recent months (Tommy Taylor’s Lane, Pittville Circus Road, Vittoria Walk and so on) but there’s further to go.
I reiterated too that I continue to have real misgivings about the controversial plans to close of Boots Corner in the autumn. Now, I’m not a highways engineer, but my instinct tells me that closing off the town centre’s main north-south artery will lead to increased journey times, congestion, rat-running and air pollution as traffic forces its way through residential areas.
But let’s be guided by the evidence. In Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, the lawyer Jaggers says to young Pip: “Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”
Whether it’s Boot’s Corner or Euratom, I think Jaggers was right.