Britain does not want to see “undue influence” from potentially adversarial countries in its critical national infrastructure, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday when quizzed about Chinese investment in British nuclear power stations.
At Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Johnson was asked about the proposed nuclear power station at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex, put forward by China’s state-owned and state-operated nuclear company, the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN).
Labour MP Matthew Pennycook said, “The government’s Integrated Review has concluded that the Chinese state poses a systemic challenge to our national security, and the prime minister has made it clear that when it comes to China, we must remain vigilant about our critical national infrastructure.”
Pennycook asked Johnson if he could confirm that plans for CGN to own and operate its own plant at Bradwell have been abandoned.
Johnson did not give a direct answer to the question, saying “there will be more information forthcoming” on Bradwell.
But he said: “Clearly, one of the consequences of our approach on critical national infrastructure in the National Security and Investment Bill is that we do not want to see undue influence by potentially adversarial countries in our critical national infrastructure. That is why we have taken the decisions that we have.”
However, the prime minister reiterated his desire to maintain a positive trade and investment relationship with China.
“What I do not want to do is pitchfork away wantonly all Chinese investment in this country, or minimise the importance to this country of having a trading relationship with China,” he said.
China’s involvement in nuclear power in the UK dates back to an agreement endorsed by then-Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2015.
CGN also has a 20 percent stake in the Sizewell C nuclear plant in Suffolk, which is due to be built by the French power firm EDF, under a deal struck six years ago. The UK government’s appetite for Chinese investment in infrastructure has since soured.
Last year the UK government reversed its position on Huawei, banning the Chinese telecoms giant from its 5G mobile phone network.
Under mounting pressure from America and prominent Conservative backbenchers, the government has indicated a growing appetite to cut out CGN from Sizewell.
The government announced a new financing model on Oct. 26, which shifts the financial risk to consumers and provides a mechanism to squeeze CGN out of the Sizewell C project without invoking national security laws that would likely crank up tensions with Beijing.
With the new model, EDF will be able to forge new partnerships with alternative private investors before the business secretary finally signs off on the project.