Two ministers face calls to recuse themselves from a decision on whether a company jointly controlled by a major Conservative party donor should be allowed to build a £1.2bn cross-Channel power cable after “bankrolling the Tories”.
The Labour party is warning of “a clear conflict of interest” at the heart of the business department, and tonight called on two of its ministers to “come clean” about their links to the sponsors of the controversial power cable plans.
Aquind Energy, which is jointly owned by Alexander Temerko, who was an arms executive in Russia and worked for the Yukos oil company before seeking political asylum in the UK, has applied for permission from the business department to build a 148-mile cable between Portsmouth and Normandy in France, which could supply up to 5% of the UK’s electricity, and contain one of Europe’s largest fibre optic data links.
But the shadow business secretary, Ed Miliband, has claimed it would be “a total fantasy” to believe that ministers could make an impartial decision on the project after receiving financial benefit from Temerko and Aquind Energy.
Miliband has called for urgent government action to address any perceived conflict and ensure “this will not be yet another episode of Tory sleaze”.
Ukrainian-born Temerko, who is now a UK citizen, has gained prominence as one of the Conservative party’s most generous donors. Temerko and the companies he is connected to, including Aquind, have donated at least £1.3m to the Conservadores.
Martin Callanan, the business department’s parliamentary undersecretary and Conservative peer, was formerly a non-executive director of Aquind between May 2016 to June 2017.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the minister for energy and clean growth, accepted £2,500 from Aquind last year, as part of a £10,000 donation to the Northumberland Conservadores. Además, her local chapter of the Tory party, the Berwick-upon-Tweed Conservative party, accepted donations totalling £17,000 from Temerko between 2013 y 2015, when Trevelyan first stood as an MP.
Miliband has called on both ministers to formally recuse themselves from meetings and discussions about the cable project, and has asked the government to give assurances that neither will have a role in the final decision, which faces local opposition on both sides of the Channel.
Miliband said that “any belief that ministers in the business department could be making genuinely impartial decisions about the future of our energy sector while pocketing donations from the companies involved, is a total fantasy”.
“There is a real issue of the culture of this government which comes straight from the top and Boris Johnson. The government must come clean and explain how this will not be yet another episode of Tory sleaze," él dijo.
A government spokesperson said neither Trevelyan or Lord Callanan would “have any role in the decision” on the Aquind project, but did not rule out their participation in business department discussions relating to the project.
“All applications for development consent are dealt with by the department in line with government propriety guidance, and are assessed on a case-by-case basis,"Agregó el portavoz.
The government’s former business secretary Alok Sharma recused himself from taking a decision on the Aquind project after it emerged he had accepted £10,000 in donations from the company.
The new business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is now expected to have the final say on whether to give the green light to the Aquind project later this year. In letters disclosed under freedom of information laws Kwarteng corresponded with Temerko, saying the business department’s officials would argue in favour of the project in meetings with French officials, who have previously opposed the project.
In a letter dated March last year, visto por el guardián, Kwarteng said he would ensure that UK officials “continue to take suitable opportunities to communicate the benefits of the project in discussions with the French government”.
In a separate letter, dated October 2019, Kwarteng added: “PS, excellent to see you at [the Conservative] conference this year!"
Stephen Morgan, the MP for Portsmouth South, said the minister’s decisions would “affect the day-to-day lives of people in Portsmouth” who “deserve total transparency from this government and a real say in the decisions about the project”.
Portsmouth council has raised almost £250,000 to oppose Aquind’s plans, saying it could severely disrupt local traffic and threaten parts of the South Downs national park. “Aquind would cause untold damage and disruption to Portsmouth with no clear benefits to our local area,” Morgan said.
A spokesperson for Aquind said the company is “strictly compliant with all relevant laws of the UK, France and the European Union” and that all its political donations have “complied with the relevant legislations”.
The UK’s development consent order application is managed by the Planning Inspectorate, an independent authority, which provides a recommendation to government ministers. Aquind said it is “the most comprehensive and overarching planning consent process in the UK”.