During the negotiating process for the UK exit from the EU many industry groups are jockeying for influence by issuing stark warnings that fall apart under closer examination. One of those instances was the Royal College of Radiologists ringing the alarm bell that they could not maintain the current levels of cancer therapy unless the UK remained part of EURATOM. There will be some disruption as to how the required radioactive isotopes are supplied, but the notion that continued EURATOM membership is required to ensure the supply is not only factual incorrect, it is legally impossible. EURATOM's founding charter the 1957 Treaty of Rome Establishing the European Atomic Community, which is legally separate from the 1957 Treaty of Rome Establishing the European Union (originally titled Establishing the European Economic Community). EURATOM is not however separate from the EU, but is one of the EU institutions, none of which permit non-EU member states to be members. This mistake is not unique to EURATOM as there have also been a lot of demands to perform the legally impossible task of remaining within the EU's Customs Union. Treaties and agreements can be signed between the EU and non-member states to give them privileged access to EU structures or institutions, but the UK cannot choose to stay in some EU institutions, including EURATOM, after it leaves the EU.

The separate status of EURATOM is not a special case dues to the sensitive nature of the nuclear industry, but is how matters were handled in the EU until the 1965 Merger Treaty, which united the European Coal and Steel Community's structures with those of the European Economic Community and EURATOM when it was implemented in 1967. In its early formulation the EU was designed as a series of European Communities with the same membership (whose six states made up a small minority of Europe, despite the grandiose naming convention). The initial coal and steel community was to be joined by the failed European Defence Community and European Political Community, and after their 1954 failure attention turned to creating an economic community. The UK joined early discussion on the economic community, but it was the introduction of the parallel plans for an atomic community that scuppered British involvement. EURATOM was originally planned to ensure that nuclear weapons were excluded from member states and that made British involvement impossible as it had been building up its nuclear deterrent since 1952. When the six member states insisted that the two treaties were inseparable the UK was forced to withdraw its representative from the negotiations. The insistence of seeing EURATOM as an indispensible part of the EU framework in the negotiations was copper-fastened by merging EURATOM's structures into the other two communities in 1967. Daniel Boffey, Brussels correspondent of The Guardian article claimed that the UK joined EURATOM in 1957, but that was just poor journalism. No state outside the EU has ever been allowed to join EURATOM (Switzerland is an associate member) and the UK joined in 1973, along with Denmark and Ireland, under the terms of the 1972 Treaty of Accession. In other words the UK's pioneering work in the nuclear industry (civilian and military) was conducted prior to EURATOM being thought of and continued to function outside EURATOM for fifteen years.

The UK can opt to comply by the rules of EURATOM or even follow the Swiss model of becoming an associate member, but the UK cannot remain within EURATOM. The possibly of that happened was ruled out five years prior to British entry when the Merger Treaty integrated EURATOM's structures with the other two EU communities. The only way for the UK to remain a member of EURATOM is to remain a member of the EU.

Mercia McMahon is the author of Brexit in Context, which gives only a few passing references to EURATOM, but this Brexit in Context website will explore all issues in the on-going Brexit process, unlike the book which deals with the period from 1945 to 2016.

© Mercia McMahon. All rights reserved