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‘Miracle’ or ‘stone age religion’: which Johnson awaits UK clean energy?

ANALYSIS | Like so many other areas of UK policy, renewables will have to wait and see which version of the controversial new Prime Minister turns up

The UK clean energy sector is preparing to do business under its third Prime Minister in as many years when Boris Johnson takes over from Theresa May tomorrow.

Johnson – the controversial former mayor of London and foreign secretary – was on Tuesday elected by the governing Conservative Party as its new leader, becoming Prime Minister by default.

Sorting out Brexit, the national crisis that did for May and her predecessor David Cameron, will be the overwhelming priority of Johnson’s government.

But Johnson will want to make an impact beyond European policy. The new Prime Minister has had plenty to say over the years on climate and energy issues – and as in so many other matters, his views have changed according to circumstances.

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The best insight to Johnson’s current stance on renewables comes from a June article in The Telegraph, his main cheerleader and the London-based newspaper where he made his name as an anti-EU journalist.

A Johnson classic, it sets the scene in the ‘beautiful’ English countryside before remarking on an ‘exotic crop’ that’s taken root against all the odds. The crop in question is “serried ranks of solar panels”, praised by Johnson for their “miracle” 70% cost reductions and held up as an example of an industry where “Britain is in the lead”.

That the modules in question were probably Chinese-made was left unsaid, and the metric by which the UK leads went unexplained. The sector in which the UK genuinely does lead the world, offshore wind, received not a single mention. These, however, rank as small ripples in Johnson’s relationship with accuracy, which has frequently been as stormy as the bust-up with his partner that saw police called to his London flat early in his leadership campaign.

The early-years ‘Boris’ described climate change as a “stone age religion” and only a few weeks ago he urged British Extinction Rebellion protestors to take their case to China instead. By contrast when he became London Mayor in 2008 he was a staunch champion of electric vehicles and other environmental initiatives.

So, when it comes to what to expect from a Johnson premiership, clean energy will have to wait its turn to find out which version turns up – along with the economy, foreign policy and healthcare.

There are a few areas where decisions made by Johnson will have an immediate impact, however.

The earliest will be the fate of business and energy secretary Greg Clark, who as a pro-EU ‘remainer’ faces an uncertain future in a Johnson government.

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The new Prime Minister and whoever leads his energy team will also be under pressure to finalise the delayed Energy White Paper, and sort out thorny issues such as the funding of the UK’s new nuclear programme.

Then there is Brexit. With the UK due to leave the EU on 31 October, offshore wind and other sectors will again have to begin preparing for the disruption of a potential ‘no deal’ departure – an outcome seen as far more likely under Johnson than under May, who negotiated a last-minute extension to Britain’s membership earlier this year.

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