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

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 also 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 raised in parliament as well as in the Guardian’s Pandora Papers investigation into the source of the company’s finances and its close links government ministers. Aquind and one of its directors have made multiple donations to the Conservative party.

A source close to Kwarteng said the application was refused consent “on planning grounds alone”.

Lawyers for Aquind and its owners have previously denied any wrongdoing, said they operated in an open and transparent manner and that their donations were “entirely lawful, properly declared and have not been made in return for any special treatment”.

Aquind is co-owned by Alexander Temerko, a friend of Boris Johnson. At least £1.3m has been donated to the Conservatives by Temerko, who was born in Soviet Ukraine, and the companies he is connected to, including Aquind. The donations were made to at least eight ministers and MPs including the former business secretary Alok Sharma and Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary and former security minister.

The junior minister and peer Martin Callanan is a former director of Aquind, while fellow House of Lords member James Wharton, recently appointed as head of the universities watchdog, has disclosed that his consultancy received fees from Aquind.

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Aquind has consistently denied any wrongdoing in its financial disclosures or political donations.

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.

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


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