Kwasi Kwarteng rejects Tory donor’s plan for £1.2bn subsea cable

Aquind Energy’s project faced fierce opposition over national security and environmental concerns in UK and France

Last modified on Thu 20 Jan 2022 14.56 EST

The UK government has rejected plans from a leading Tory donor to build a controversial £1.2bn electricity and internet cable running from the UK to France.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has refused to grant consent to Aquind Energy for the project, which has provoked fierce opposition over national security and environmental concerns from MPs and campaigners in the UK and France.

Aquind applied more than two years ago for permission to run the giant subsea cable from near Dieppe to Portsmouth. It would have carried one of Europe’s biggest internet data links and enough electricity to meet almost 5% of the UK’s annual demand.

After multiple delays, Kwarteng refused the application on Thursday, in what campaigners have described as a “victory” for Portsmouth residents. The business secretary said he was unable to conclude that the benefits of the proposed development would outweigh its adverse impacts on the local area.

Penny Mordaunt, the Conservative MP for Portsmouth North and a former defence secretary, had led calls against the project, saying it was not helpful to the UK’s energy security. She had raised concerns France could cut the supply in any future dispute.

Welcoming Kwarteng’s decision, she said: “If you stand up for what you believe in and you fight for it you can actually change things”.

The cross-Channel cable faced steady criticism from Portsmouth city council, which raised almost £250,000 to oppose the venture, saying the project could severely disrupt local traffic and threaten parts of the South Downs national park.

Concerns were also raised in parliament about the company’s close links with the Conservative party and the source of its finances, though a source close to Kwarteng said the application was refused consent “on planning grounds alone”.

The refusal appears to reverse the minister’s earlier support for the project, which he expressed in a 2019 letter to Aquind, later disclosed under freedom of information laws.

Together, Aquind and one of its co-owners, Alexander Temerko, have donated £1.1m to the party, including contributions to 21 Tory MPs and ministers.

In October, the Guardian and BBC reported that documents in the Pandora papers suggest Aquind’s majority owner, Viktor Fedotov, secretly co-owned a company once accused of participating in a massive embezzlement scheme in Russia.

Lawyers for Fedotov and Aquind strongly denied all accusations of wrongdoing. The company has said it has operated in an open and transparent manner, saying its donations were “entirely lawful, properly declared and have not been made in return for any special treatment”.

Stephen Morgan, the Labour MP for Porstmouth South, said the decision to reject the application was “a victory for the people of Portsmouth over years of uncertainty”.

Morgan paid tribute “to local campaigners who have helped me lead our city’s united opposition”, adding: “Without our efforts, this would not have been possible. Together, we have stopped Aquind.”

A spokesperson for Aquind said the company was “naturally disappointed” that its application was refused and that it would consider the decision and whether a legal challenge was worth pursuing.

“We believe our application for a development consent order to be accurate and robust, and it has met all the requirements,” they added.

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