In October last year, Nick Timothy criticised the Government for “selling our national security to China”. In his sights was, amongst other things, the Hinkley Point nuclear power station planned for Somerset. He wrote:
“During Xi’s visit to London, the two governments will sign deals giving Chinese state-owned companies stakes in the British nuclear power stations planned for Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk. It is believed that the deals could lead to the Chinese designing and constructing a third nuclear reactor at Bradwell in Essex. Security experts – reportedly inside as well as outside government – are worried that the Chinese could use their role to build weaknesses into computer systems which will allow them to shut down Britain’s energy production at will.”
We don’t know for sure whether this morning’s announcement of yet another delay in confirming the project is directly related to the new regime’s very different analysis of the right balance to strike between commerce and economic security, but it seems likely to have played a part.
Brexit may have been another factor – as Jeremy Warner puts it in the Telegraph: “Britain’s most ambitious nuclear power station to date appeared so bound up in the spirit of European communautaire that it was hard to imagine how the French, state controlled, energy giant Électricité de France (EDF), could proceed if Britain voted to Leave.”
Perhaps it is simply that May’s Government doesn’t feel it loses face by walking away from one of the grand infrastructure projects of the previous regime.
The critical consensus seems to be that there are more practical, less grandiose alternatives to Hinkley Point which can come online quicker, and without exposing our energy infrastructure to foreign powers.
A final thought: if the Government is prepared to review top-tier projects in which the previous administration was heavily invested, might we see a change of direction on HS2?