Good morning. One of the key skills of political leadership is the ability to respond and adapt to changing circumstances; to recognise that as events change (even for the worse), opportunities can open up. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Boris Johnson and his government have focused on supporting President Zelenskiy (which they’ve done well, according to consensus opinion) and responding to the refugee crisis (which they’ve done very badly, judging by the same benchmark). But Johnson has also identified the crisis as an opportunity to recast energy policy, and today he has set out, in the clearest terms yet, his thinking.
Johnson has said the government will soon publish a new document setting out its revised policy on energy security. But in a long article published in the Daily Telegraph (paywall) he has today set out what will probably turn out to be the key pillars of the strategy. Here they are.
- Johnson says the west made a “terrible mistake” when it did not respond robustly to the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine by President Putin in 2014. He says:
When Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine the first time round, in 2014, the West made a terrible mistake. The Russian leader had committed an act of violent aggression and taken a huge chunk out of a sovereign country – and we let him get away with it.
He says the west has an “addiction” to Russian oil and gas, and that this has allowed Putin to subject it to “blackmail”.
- But, Johnson argues, Russia’s strength, its energy supplies, also makes it vulnerable. He explains:
Putin’s strength – his vast resource of hydrocarbons – is also his weakness. He has virtually nothing else. Putin’s Russia makes little that the rest of the world wants to buy. If the world can end its dependence on Russian oil and gas, we can starve him of cash, destroy his strategy and cut him down to size.
- Johnson says that it will be “painful” for the west cutting its reliance on Russian energy. He says:
Because this strategy will not truly work unless everyone does it. The only way to force Putin to cease his aggression, and to respect international law, is for the world to stop mainlining Russian hydrocarbons – and we have to accept that such a move will be painful.
And later in the article he says:
I don’t doubt that there will be tough times ahead. The process of weaning the world off Russian oil and gas, and hydrocarbons in general, will be difficult.
This is significant because Johnson has until now been very reluctant to admit that finding alternative sources of energy will have an impact on consumers. Only last week, when the government said it would stop imports of Russian oil by the end of the year, Johnson said consumers would be “protected” – implying it would not be difficult.
- He says the UK must become less reliant on other countries for energy. He says:
We need permanently to reduce the cost of energy at source – and that will only happen if our supply is more secure, more sustainable and less vulnerable to manipulation by others.
We need to take back control. Later this month, I will set out a British energy security strategy – how the UK will become more self-sufficient and no longer at the mercy of bullies like Putin.
Interestingly, Johnson links this with Brexit (“take back control”), in line with the adage that the old slogans are often the best ones.
- He says going green will be central to increasing the UK’s energy security. He says:
At the heart of the strategy is green energy of all kinds.
Green electricity isn’t just better for the environment, it’s better for your bank balance. A kilowatt from a North Sea wind turbine costs less than one produced by a power station running on gas shipped to the UK from overseas. And if a quarter of our power wasn’t already coming from renewables, your bills today would be even higher than they already are.
Renewables are the quickest and cheapest route to greater energy independence. They are invulnerable to Putin’s manipulations. He may have his hand on the taps for oil and gas. But there is nothing he can do to stop the North Sea wind.
That’s why our ambition to go for net zero is not the problem. Renewable power – which is getting more efficient the whole time – is a crucial part of the solution.
This is a response to the faction in the Conservative party urging the government to abandon its net zero commitments.
- He says it is time to make “a series of big new bets” on nuclear. And he claims that Labour is to blame for the fact that nuclear power is not more developed now in the UK. He says:
So now is the time to make a series of big new bets on nuclear power. The 1997, the Labour manifesto said there was “no economic case” for more nuclear – even though nuclear is in fact safe, clean and reliable.
It is time to reverse that historic mistake, with a strategy that includes small modular reactors as well as the larger power stations. It was the UK that first split the atom. It was the UK that had the world’s first civilian nuclear power plant. It is time we recovered our lead.
Johnson made a similar point in the Commons last week. In response, Keir Starmer pointed out that progress on building new nuclear power stations has been very sluggish since 2010, when the Tories came to power, too.
- And Johnson hints that he wants to increase gas production from the North Sea. He says:
It is crazy that we are importing oil and gas from Putin’s Russia when we have our own resources in the North Sea. It is time to give investors more confidence in British hydrocarbons. That way, we will have more domestic energy resilience as we make the transition to a zero carbon future.
At a meeting with energy company leaders in Downing Street yesterday, Johnson was more explicit. They agreed on the need to boost supplies.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.
10am: Ofcom and the BBC World Service give evidence to the Commons culture committee about Russian disinformation; at 11am Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister, gives evidence; at at 12pm Mark Bullingham, the Football Association chief executive, and Helen MacNamara, the Premier League’s chief policy officer, give evidence about Russian involvement in football.
10am: Sir Alex Allan, the former independent adviser on ministerial standards, and Sir Philip Mawer, the former parliamentary commissioner for standards, give evidence to the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee.
10.30am: Lord Agnew, who resigned as a Treasury minister because he thought the government was not taking fraud seriously enough, gives evidence to the Commons business committee.
11.30am: Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, takes questions in the Commons.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
Late morning: Boris Johnson meets fellow leaders from countries contributing to the Joint Expeditionary Force, the north European security coalition (Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and the UK) at Lancaster House.
After 12.30pm: MPs begin a general debate on Ukraine.
2pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, makes a statement to MSPs about Covid.
2.30pm: Lord Robertson, the former Nato secretary general, gives evidence to the Commons defence committee.
Also today Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, is expected add hundreds of oligarchs, individuals and organisations to the UK’s sanctions list, using powers in the Economic Crime Act which has just become law.
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