So this morning Dave did it. Something the polls would say the vast majority want, offer the public a referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the EU.
In what many say could be the defining moment of his premiership DC pledged to give us disgruntled europhobic moaners a chance to bail out should the Tories win the next election and should they be able to renegotiate a new treaty on UK membership. Lots of shoulds there but let’s face it he has set out his stall. In less than a decade and possibly as quickly as the Rio Olympics we could be saying au revoir and auf wiedersehen to Europe, so what would all this mean for our energy sector?
Well not much. Let’s face it our industry is owned by the French, German and Spanish fat chance any government will end up saying zut alors to these huge multinationals who secure not only our power supply but thousands of British jobs. Even a huge no in a referendum wouldn’t stop the UK coaxing as many energy companies over here as possible let alone the amount of trade we need to do with suppliers and manufacturers as we upgrade the infrastructure.
But when you dissect the PM’s speech you see hints of what he considers important when it comes to energy. When talking about competitiveness there was a clear hint that our energy market and trading on it is of importance to number 10.
“At the core of the European Union must be, as it is now, the single market. Britain is at the heart of that Single Market, and must remain so. But when the Single Market remains incomplete in services, energy and digital – the very sectors that are the engines of a modern economy – it is only half the success it could be… I want completing the single market to be our driving mission. I want us to be at the forefront of transformative trade deals with the US, Japan and India as part of the drive towards global free trade,” said Mr Cameron.
As he waxed on about setting Britain at the heart of a more responsive and accountable Europe, the PM did suggest continued co-operation on many fronts including energy “..we believe in our nations working together to protect the security and diversity of our energy supplies. To tackle climate change and global poverty,” but there was also a hint of something more. Something about policy being set in Brussels and not in Westminster.
“Countries are different. They make different choices. We cannot harmonise everything…In the same way we need to examine whether the balance is right in so many areas where the European Union has legislated including on the environment, social affairs and crime. Nothing should be off the table.”
Does that mean opting out of our Carbon targets? Changing the level of emissions so as not to hinder our major energy users? If nothing is off the table then clearly everything is back on including the rafts of legislation governing the direction of energy policy.
A UK outside of the EU may never happen but even the hint of leaving that decision in the hands of the public must have some of the Euro energy big wigs worried. Investment is a long game in this industry, decades at a time, so even if today is all about pleasing the Tory right and Eurosceptics, there will be some eyebrows raised at the real possibility of a future UK sitting on its own energy island.