Mrs May has apparently decided to borrow the Cabinet spine – there’s only one and they have to take turns – and stand up to Russia. Enough is apparently enough and this time she really really means it. Until she has to hand the spine back to David Davis, who is going to use it for the Brexit negotiations, or perhaps Mr Hammond who now has to tell us with a straight face that the austerity programme which increased spending has solved our financial problems, she will fulminate about the reckless assassination of an ex-spy in Salisbury. Then she’ll hand it back and hide, submerging until it all blows over.
She has an excuse. The EU, who don’t have even one spine between the lot of them, will talk big but fail to back us, will bury the problem in political verbiage, and without wholehearted international support the UK will be powerless to punish President Putin and the rest of his dangerous coterie. Russia has a law permitting overseas killing of enemies of the state, and it seems determined to use murder on foreign soil as a diplomatic tool.
The EU imports:
- 90% of its crude oil
- 69% of its natural gas
- 42% of its coal and other solid fuels
- 40% of its uranium and other nuclear fuels.
Brussels appreciates the energy situation and they have produced this blurb: “The EU works closely with its supplier countries. This includes collaboration with Russia and Norway who together supply over half of the EU’s gas and over 40% of its oil.” Norway we can live with, we don’t expect murderous Norwegians to kill our people. Russia, however, is a dangerous master – I say ‘master’ advisedly because a country which has its hand on the power supplies of Europe is the master. And we’ve seen that word ‘collaboration’ before – it doesn’t bode well.
Will the EU help us in our attempts to punish Russia? With Russia’s fingers around the gas tap? Not in a month of Sonatas!
Our government’s holders of the great offices of State, Business Secretary, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary etc are too young to remember the oil shock of 1973 when the threat by OPEC to cut production sent the world economy into a spin. However, their expert civil servants will be able to spell it out for them: if the UK tries to punish Russia for this outrage then the little czar will flex his muscles and every nation in the free West would be on our case.
We seem to out of short-term diplomatic options and we got here because our naive and inexperienced politicians have allowed our energy supplies to be dominated, once again, by those whose interests do not march with our own. We can only escape from this trap by committing our country to a medium term strategy of energy independence.
The EU’s energy security strategy, launched in 2014, when they suddenly noticed that the supply of Russian gas through the Ukraine is unreliable, was typical of Brussels’ approach. They produced a lot of hot air but failed to address the real problem. No, the problem is not that we lack plans to share when the gas is cut off, or that we don’t have plans to prioritise supplies to vulnerable people, the problem is that Russia is a fickle and murderous regime, untrustworthy and not fit to be a business partner until it learns international manners.
We may well have shale gas under the UK. How much we don’t know, but the deposits are huge and may well be enough to give us energy security for decades if they are exploitable. We must look at this as a matter of strategic necessity. If it’s there we will be able to free up world supplies so that Russia’s domination of EU markets is broken. If there’s as much as some predictions say then we could pump directly to the EU, offsetting the cost of all those BMWs and Mercs that people insist on buying. But what if the shale gas isn’t exploitable? The USA is now the biggest producer of fossil fuels on the planet, bigger than Russia, bigger than Saudi, big enough to dominate world markets. It’s a short hop as the LNG tanker sails from Texas to Milford Haven. That’ll do.
That’s the medium term strategy. Long term there’s another solution, a solution which plays to the UK’s strengths: SMRs. Rolls Royce is already leading a consortium which is developing a Small Modular Reactor design which can be manufactured as modules in factories, greatly simplifying construction and cutting costs. Modern reactors have become so complex that building them is at the limits of engineering – the one being built in Finland is nine years late with suggestions that it will end up costing more than three and a half times the original estimate of 3 billion euros. SMRs solve that problem and the export potential is immense.
France reacted to the oil shock by building nukes, a strategy so successful that we still import 2Gw from them nearly every hour.. Of course those were the days when France had not sold its soul to the EU and become a compliant yes-man to Germany. Make no mistake, Germany is now in the driving seat of the EU car, but Russia is pumping its fuel.
The UK needs more of our own energy, the lifeblood of civilisation. We need gas feedstock for industry, heat for our homes, fuel for our cars, cheaper electricity to make us competitive when we leave the EU in a year’s time. We need to make Russia, an economy smaller than South Korea, realise that it in their long-term interest to become a civilised member of international society. Let’s get their attention by hitting them where it hurts by stealing their energy customers. It may take ten or fifteen years but revenge is a dish best served cold. And if we simultaneously gain an industrial energy advantage then that’s all to the good.
Russia must pay for Salisbury.