I’ve never had any illusions about the nature of the Chinese regime, but I used to think that constructive engagement was the best policy.
Not anymore. Not after the Covid cover-up, or the crushing of Hong Kong, or the aggression against India or the latest news from Xinjiang about a Uighur sterilization campaign. Our policy must now shift to one of protective disengagement.
Not becoming technologically dependant on Chinese providers is the obvious place to start. Quite rightly, the British government is coming under intense pressure to u-turn on its policy of allowing Huawei to build our 5G networks. But another key concern is nuclear power.
According to a Populus poll conducted for the China Research Group (an organisation of British Members of Parliament), only 12% of respondents agreed with the statement “I would be happy for a Chinese company to build a nuclear power station in Britain” — 62% disagreed.
Unfortunately, it’s already happening. The Chinese company CGN is key part of the consortium building Hinkley Point C in Somerset. But while it’s too late to stop that horrendously expensive mistake, there’s still time to say no to Sizewell C in Suffolk. This nuclear new build project also involves CGN — and it too is horrendously expensive. The Financial Times reports that the latest cost estimates are “higher-than-expected”.
Those of us who complained about the price tag on Hinkley were told that as the first of its kind, the project would pave the way for major cost reductions on subsequent power stations. But Sizewell C throws that into doubt and we aren’t even close to getting the final bill yet.
At least with Huawei’s 5G offer, we’d be getting some advanced technology for our money. However, the same cannot be said for the EPR nuclear reactor design, which has been knocking about for years. The first such construction project, in Finland, started in 2005. Therefore, by the time that Sizewell C is meant to open in 2031, the technology will be more than a quarter of a century old.
Sizewell C therefore fails the ‘Dominic Cummings test’ of using industrial policy to place Britain at the cutting edge. Rather, British energy consumers would end up spending decades paying to prop-up dinosaur industries in competitor economies. Furthermore, we’d be involving an increasingly hostile foreign power in a serious matter of national security.
Even if Sizewell C made economic sense, which it doesn’t, it makes no geopolitical sense. So what on Earth are we playing at?