Posted by Stephen Tindale

What will be the impact of Brexit on clean energy in the UK? Answer: nobody knows, because nothing is remotely clear in British politics now. Who will be prime minister? Will there be an early general election? What will be the relationship between the UK and the remaining EU member-states? Will there even be a UK?

However, some broad predictions can be made – and they are not optimistic.

In the short term, there will probably not be significant change in the policy framework. But there will be further slowdown in investment in energy infrastructure: potential investors do not like instability. Investment in renewables will be reduced because the UK will no longer be obliged to meet the 2020 legally-binding renewables target. Investment in new nuclear will also be reduced: progress on Hinkley looks even less likely this week than it did last. Investment in new  interconnectors will probably suffer less. Other countries’ governments may be very cross with Britain, but that will not stop them wanting to sell us more electricity.

In the medium- to long-term, some laws governing the energy sector will probably be revoked or weakened. The free market right of the Conservative party has been strengthened, and attacks on ‘Brussels red tape’ were frequent in the successful Leave campaign. There were criticisms of the EU’s 2010 Industrial Emissions Directive, which limits air pollution emissions from power stations and protects public health ( However, air pollution is quite high on the UK political and media agendas. So the Industrial Emissions Directive will probably remain in force post-Brexit.

Weaker climate policies

Climate policies look more vulnerable, because there is a significant overlap between Euroscepticism and climate scepticism. The UK’s Climate Change Act, which commits the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent (from1990 levels) by 2050, was passed with all party support in 2008 – only five MPs voted against. There are more climate sceptic Conservative MPs now than there were in 2008, and likely to be even more following a general election called by the new prime minister. But the new government is not likely to repeal the Act. Instead, it will probably weaken it by adopting less ambitious ‘carbon budgets’. The Act requires governments to set such budgets for four year periods, on advice from a Committee on Climate Change. The Cameron government has yet to accept the Committee’s latest recommendation.

The 2010-15 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government implemented an Emissions Performance Standard banning the construction of new coal power stations unless they have carbon capture and storage. The opposition Labour party tried to get this applied to existing coal as well (as Obama is doing with his Clean Power Plan). There is now little likelihood of this happening. And the promise made by energy and climate secretary Amber Rudd (a leading Remain campaigner) to close unabated coal by 2025 looks unlikely to be met. Rudd said in her speech announcing this target that it would only be implemented if consistent with energy security. The slow down in energy infrastructure considered above makes the target much more challenging.

The coalition also introduced a ‘carbon floor price’: emissions allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System are not sold in the UK if the auction bid is lower than £18 per tonne of carbon dioxide. This raises around £2 billion a year, ( ), so a Chancellor of the Exchequer will not want to abolish it. But making UK operators pay around three times the cost of allowances elsewhere in Europe does not help UK competitiveness, so the next Chancellor will come under considerable pressure to scrap it.

Advanced nuclear power

Post-Brexit, there will be less Europe-wide collaboration on energy R&D. This will hamper research. In the words of Universities for Europe:

“Working together, UK and European researchers can pool their resources, expertise, data and infrastructure to achieve more together than they could do alone. Many of today’s challenges are global, not national. In the EU, researchers can collaborate more easily to come up with solutions on an international scale, making the most of Europe’s diversity to achieve bigger and better results. EU frameworks, programmes and funding support collaboration are reducing the barriers to working across borders.” (

This additional barrier does not make energy R&D impossible. The UK must continue to invest in energy innovation. Chancellor George Osborne promised in his 2015 Autumn Statement £250 million over five years for nuclear innovation. In his March 2016 Budget he allocated £30 million to a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) competition. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is currently talking to potential SMR developers.  This is in line with our recommendations (see  However, the referendum result means that the UK government has less money than expected. And a competition does not guarantee that money will be provided. The UK ran a competition on Carbon Capture and Storage but then cancelled it without giving any awards. The top priority for Weinberg Next Nuclear in the coming months will be to try to ensure that the SMR competition continues and leads to financial support to developers.


  1. Jono Adams says:

    Thanks Stephen for your usual quality insight. What do you think our position will be related to COP21 targets and might we move away from EU ETS?

    • COP21 targets are bottom up. UK offered 40% cut by 2030, and helped shape EU policy to do same (see Outside EU UK could do same, but may not. EU may try to change its offer, though this seems unlikely. UK would be covered by ETS if we are in European Economic Area like Norway. Which is what Boris now seems to be arguing for. Today at least…

      • Chaeles Barton says:

        I must say, that viewing the situation of the UK from the West side of the Atlantic, I see the departure from the EU as far less than a sure thing, especially since it could lead to the break up of the UK. It seems to me that your Unwritten Constitution makes Parlement, not the people sovereign in these matters, and that the refferendum may have expressed the will of a majoreity of the people who voted, and that may not be the same thing as the will of a majority of the people both voters and none voters. It is the collective members of the House of Commons who determine the will of the people. I realize that there are serious problems with the European Union, and that its decision making structure is pass due for reform, but the solution to that problem does not require its breakup.

  2. Alan Bucknall says:

    An interesting, early response to Brexit. Given an unexpected, shocking (to some) referendum outcome and ‘on-the-fly’ explanations of Leavers intentions, uncertainty is inevitable for the moment. If it is any comfort, things are never as bad/good as they seem. COP21 are international targets and apply to the UK. True, out of the EU, change is inevitable: the 2020 IED was primarily intended to galvanise and provoke action. Is it of value, today? If it is missed, so be it. If Hinkley is abandoned, we free £18-24bn (?). That sum could be better spent on cheaper, more certain, alternatives, thereby enabling an uncommitted balance to be directed to MSR R&D.
    If we do become truly independent, we can orient industry licencing regulation to better accord with our needs (without diluting standards), and not be subject to other ‘harmonising’ diktats, which become irrelevant.

  3. Toby Thatcher says:

    Interesting times indeed, but quite possibly this is what our cause needs; a heavily industrialised heavily populated free world country suddenly thrown back onto her own resources for survival. Resources which happen to include the largest stockpile of plutonium 239 on Planet Earth. Not for nothing does the Greek meaning of crisis include opportunity as well as turmoil.

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