Brexit, energy and cooperation

| 22nd October 2018

Stage powered by hydrogen generator. 

Natalie Bennett
Energy and resource efficiency could form the basis of a positive case for remaining in the EU.

Cooperation is a way in which we can balance our electricity supply by dealing with variability in demand in supply, something that will be increasingly important in future.

The debate about Brexit grinds on. Yet, when I took part in LBC’s Cross Question, the presenter Iain Dale bemoaned the lack of a public question on Brexit, despite the obvious potential in the panel for fireworks on the subject.

While there’s plenty of exhaustion around this topic, what’s also clear is that public knowledge about some of the key issues has grown enormously: the Northern Ireland border, single market versus customs union versus WTO rules, the risk to which we are putting UK citizens settled in the rest of Europe (and other EU states’ citizens here).

As there's still much that’s little or unknown, I welcomed a request from the Renewable Energy Association to speak at UK Construction Week  on the potential impacts of Brexit on our future energy supplies.

Energy market

This all begins with an acronym (and I promise I’m only going to use one) – IEM: the Internal Energy Market. This body sets up the simplest possible mechanisms for energy to be exchanged across the Continent. With six percent (set to rise to 22 percent) of our electricity already coming from interconnectors across the Channel, the IEM is important.

Cooperation is a way in which we can balance our electricity supply by dealing with variability in demand in supply, something that will be increasingly important in future.

If we leave the IEM it doesn’t mean we can’t continue to get that power or balancing, but it will certainly be more complicated and more expensive - estimates range from £100m to £500m a year.

The other key issue is one that ties in with many others – energy efficiency and the essential growth of renewable energy sources to tackle the pressing issue of climate change.

Resource efficiency 

There’s been a lot of talk about the risk of chlorinated chicken and hormone-laced beef from the US, but less focus on the importance of maintaining standards for energy and resource efficiency on everything from vacuum cleaners to housing.

If our manufacturers want to maintain European markets, they’ll have to meet those standards, but imports won’t necessarily have to. That could mean more costs for consumers, more climate damage, and tougher times for our businesses.

These are technical issues, but they feed into an important point: a lot of the debate on Brexit has focused on the costs of leaving. But it is also important that we focus on the benefits of remaining – especially with fast-growing prospects of a People’s Vote in the coming months.

We saw how disastrous a negative campaign proved in 2016. What we need now is something different.

And if we look at the IEM and the energy standards we now enjoy as part of our membership of the EU, here’s part of the positive case for remaining in the EU.

Environmental standards

As with police and intelligence cooperation, even regulation of nuclear facilities and medicines, there can be few Leavers ideologically wedded to going it alone when the benefits of cooperation are so obvious and clear.

When we work together to maintain and improve standards, when we help each other out when we need it, cooperatively, with the minimum of borders and walls between us, we all benefit.

That’s true on food and environmental standards - people’s campaigns won a ban on fisheries discards and blocked the disastrous bee-killing neonicotinoids - and it is clearly true on energy supplies.

Going it alone now is a nonsensical move, in terms of costs, in terms of security and resilience, in terms of standing up against the power of multinational companies.

Information is power is a very old slogan – and it is important British people have this information as we struggle to find a way forward from where we are now. 

At the very least, we must educate ourselves and others about the basic frame of the IEM; know where the energy you need can come from, and how we can share ours with our neighbours, to the mutual benefit of all. That’s what a union can achieve.

This Author 

Natalie Bennett is a member of Sheffield Green Party and former Green Party leader.


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate here