A major new Brexit row has erupted after the UK blamed the EU for driving up its energy bills as the bloc was accused of stalling on a cross-Channel deal over electricity trading. As part of the Brexit trade and cooperation agreement signed in December 2020, the EU and the UK had agreed to set to a framework to allow for future electricity trading that would come into effect this year.
However, a UK official has blasted the EU Commission, saying that progress on the deal had been brought to a standstill since the summer, despite repeated attempts from the UK to complete the agreement.
According to Politico, the Government believes that the EU is “dragging its feet” over the agreement due to the ongoing Brexit dispute over trade rules in Northern Ireland.
The delay in the cross Channel electricity deal comes as Europe is gripped by a major energy crisis, as Russia’s threat to completely halt gas flows to the EU has sent wholesale gas prices skyrocketing.
Because the UK has not had an electricity trading framework implemented as its departure from the EU single market, the country has been forced to move into a more inefficient system of buying and trading electricity through undersea interconnectors with France, the Netherlands and Belgium.
According to energy industry experts, this system is adding hundred of millions of pounds per year to the energy bills of households in the UK.
Two years on from Brexit, the UK has still not been readmitted to the North Sea Energy Cooperation (NSEC) platform, which is an intergovernmental organisation meant to develop offshore wind-farms in the North Sea region.
Despite the body not being an EU agency, the Commission booted the UK out of the group, despite calls by several member countries and the EU’s Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans calling on Britain to remain in the group.
The UK official told Politico: “Given the crisis is all about [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and the war, some questions are being asked about the EU going slow on electricity market and North Sea cooperation.”
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Britain is expected to once again demand an agreement during the upcoming meeting of the EU-UK specialized committee on energy, focused on energy security, which is due to take place on September 28.
The Government has said that the crippling energy crisis facing Europe this winter makes the Commission’s delaying tactics over electricity trading unjustifiable.
Adam Bermann, deputy director at the energy industry lobby Energy UK, said: “Our understanding is that the EU has given a strong signal that until negotiations on the [Northern Ireland] protocol are settled there will be no movement on the electricity trading arrangements.
“Whilst we understand the EU’s position, we are in an energy crisis today — and when it comes to electricity inter-connectors or cooperation on gas, which is crucial to security of supply this winter, it may be worth the EU revisiting whether these items can be discussed in a bilateral way regardless of the status of negotiations on the protocol.”
Disputes between the UK and the EU over trade rules in Northern Ireland has led to the bloc shunning the UK from a number of major plans, including kicking them out of Horizon Europe, an £80billion scientific research fund.
A Commission spokesperson said: “The EU is aware of the importance of energy cooperation and is committed to continue working with the UK on energy”, adding that “these issues are highly technical, which explains why progress takes time.”
They also rejected accusations that it is delaying progress on the deal, insisting that the Commission is “collaborating openly with the UK.”
“We are developing a new mandate for industry to further explore the options for the future framework for electricity trading across interconnectors.
“Following some outstanding technical checks with the U.K. side, the Commission will put the proposal forward for Council’s agreement on next steps for electricity trading.”