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Under The Radar – 10 December

This week, we discuss:

  1. The UK is “on a mission for fission”

  2. Financial sector shifts away from EU and towards the US

  3. Countries line up to boycott the winter Olympics

The UK is “on a mission for fission”

What Happened?

Greg Hands, the UK Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, told the Nuclear Industry Association that “net-zero needs nuclear” during a speech at the annual NIA conference.

What does it mean?

Given the recent energy crisis, highlighted most recently by the impact of Storm Arwen, energy security is an increasingly concerning issue. This is not helped by numerous energy companies going bust over the past couple of months and the entire grid being in dire need of an upgrade.  While it is widely accepted at this point that the UK, and indeed the world, cannot reach net-zero by 2035 without nuclear power, it is clear more needs to be done. The government’s net-zero strategy has established bold targets and positioned Britain as a world leader in the path to a more sustainable planet. However, at a time when the UK is decommissioning its nuclear fleet, failing to replace old reactors at scale, and more importantly, facing an energy shortage, there’s a significant gap between rhetoric and reality.  What the government doesn’t seem to understand is that it takes ten years, at minimum, to build a nuclear power plant. If there is any hope of reaching those goals, action is needed now, and even then, we would likely remain behind schedule. It’s time for less rhetoric, more investment, and faster decision making.  Despite this reality gap, the nuclear industry welcomed Hands’ speech as an indication that government sentiment towards nuclear power is improving. As always, however, the proof will be in the pudding, and all eyes (at least in the nuclear industry) will be on whether or not the government puts its money where its mouth is. 

Financial sector shifts away from the EU and towards the US

What happened? British financial services exports to the US outstripped those to the European Union last year for the first time, in a sign that the City is shifting its focus away from Europe since the Brexit vote. What does this mean? In 2020, 34% of exports by banks and financial institutions went to America, compared to just 30% to the EU.  The emerging trend is likely to be seized on by Brexit supporters as proof of their claims that the City could prosper outside the EU bloc. And unlike many of their other claims, there is strong data that proves London remains much busier than any financial centre in Europe, with the British banking industry managing assets of $14.3 trillion at the end of June 2021, ahead of France and Germany. However, there are some caveats. The rise in trade with the US has been driven in part by post-Brexit barriers, which are reducing UK exports to the EU, but also by the US economy bouncing back faster than the Eurozone from the damages inflicted by the pandemic, thus providing greater trade opportunities.  Britain is already the second-largest exporter of services in the world, but service exports will need to remain strong if the government is to hit its ambitious target to reach £1 trillion of overall exports per annum by 2030. Whether this is a permanent shift, or a temporary blip due to Brexit teething problems and Covid-19, remains to be seen.

Countries line up to boycott the Winter Olympics

What happened?

Australia has joined the US-led boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. The Prime Minister has said that the country was concerned about human rights abuses against the Uyghur ethnic minority and will therefore not send diplomats to the games; they will however allow their athletes to compete. What does it mean?

It’s not surprising that Scott Morrison’s government would join the boycott, given the ongoing simmering trade war between the two countries.  But it’s hardly rattled the Chinese, who pointed out that: “No one cares if they come or do not come. The political hyping by Australian politicians for political self-interest will have no bearing on Beijing’s hosting the games successfully.”  And to be fair to China, they’re not wrong. Diplomatic boycotts will do very little to disrupt the Winter Olympics – instead they just highlight a lack of substance behind the Western world’s stance on important human rights issues.  If the US, Australia, and other countries expected to join the boycott – including the UK and Japan – want to take an impactful stance against a powerful authoritarian power, they don’t need to look too far back in the history books for a more effective approach. In 1980, the US implemented a total boycott – including athletes – of the Moscow Olympics in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Whilst this didn’t directly influence the dramatic fall of the Soviet Union just a decade later (the Mujahideen the Soviets encountered in Afghanistan were much more influential in that respect), it did underline how America and its allies had a substantive strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union.  Fast forward three decades, and this seemingly insignificant sporting spat magnifies how unlike their predecessors, our world leaders have yet to establish a strategy to deal with a gigantic authoritarian superpower.

This week’s must reads

  1. “Boris Johnson is eating reality” by Alex Massie for The Spectator

  2. “There’s nothing ‘civic’ about Sturgeon’s brand of nationalism” by Tom Harris for The Telegraph

  3. “Angela Merkel’s most important legacy: her civility” by Jeremy Cliffe for The New Statesman

  4. “Cruel ministers have made citizenship a tool of dirty politics” by Zoe Williams for The Guardian

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