Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

U.K. May Seek Associate Membership of Euratom, Davis Says

  • Britain wants deal ‘close to what we currently have:’ Davis
  • Tory government seeking to pacify bakbench rebellion

The U.K. may seek associate membership of the nuclear oversight treaty that it’s pulling out of as part of its withdrawal from the European Union, Brexit Secretary David Davis said as he sought to quell a nascent rebellion among lawmakers from his own Conservative Party.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said that Britain must withdraw from Euratom as part of Brexit because the treaties governing the EU and its nuclear regime are intertwined. That’s provoked the ire of lawmakers from all parties, who fear the pullout will affect everything from the transfer of nuclear fuels to the availability of medical isotopes used in cancer treatments. At least 12 Tories have indicated they support keeping Euratom membership.

“What we want is something quite close to what we currently have in terms of safeguards, in terms of agreements, in terms of oversight, in terms of the ability to transfer fissile materials, all these sorts of things,” Davis said Thursday in a BBC television interview. “Whether we have an association agreement with the European Union or we have something independent under the International Atomic Energy Authority, we’ll provide the sorts of safeguards that we have today at least.”

By holding out the carrot of an association agreement, Davis may pacify opponents to the Euratom pullout within his own party.

But he also risks having his red line over the freedom of movement of people -- Britain wants to end it after Brexit -- tested in his talks with the EU. Switzerland is an associate member of Euratom that was suspended from some of its research programs after bringing in immigration quotas. It was only reinstated after scrapping them.

Rebels

Davis was clear about another of his red lines in the interview. “The point to be clear about this is that it does not require the oversight of the European Court,” he said of the deal on Euratom he’s seeking. “If it did, then we’d find another mechanism.”

At least a dozen potential Tory rebels have signaled they want Britain to stay in the treaty so far. After May’s gamble to call an early general election that stripped her of her majority last month, she’s dependent on party loyalty and 10 lawmakers from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists to win votes in the House of Commons.

Read more about why Tories are jumping on Euratom row

In a debate on Wednesday in Parliament’s Westminster Hall, at least six Conservatives defended full Euratom membership, though some conceded an association deal would be an acceptable alternative. They add to at least six other Tories who have previously indicated support on the issue.

“Associate membership with bespoke terms is a perfectly acceptable compromise,” one Tory opponent to withdrawal, John Howell, said. “That would mean that there would be a transition period that would leave us as full members of Euratom until 2020.”

Another Conservative, Robert Neill, said “it would be much better if the government seized the initiative and said that politically they wanted to stay in” Euratom, before adding “if they cannot achieve that, certainly an association agreement would be the next best thing.”

Even an association agreement would involve a degree of decision-making: Howell talked about two models available: the Swiss one “which includes freedom of movement for nuclear scientists and the use of the European Court of Justice,” and the Ukrainian one.

In the latter, “there is no free movement of nuclear scientists and for which the Ukrainian courts decide disputes.” Albert Owen, the Labour Party lawmaker who called for the debate, said that other countries, including Japan, the U.S. and Canada, have a different relationship.

— With assistance by Jonathan Tirone

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