Britain’s supply chains importing key minerals including for batteries and low carbon energy render the UK exposed to blackmail and pressure by autocracies, particularly China, MPs on Parliament’s foreign affairs committee have found.
Successive UK governments have failed to recognise the importance of critical minerals such as lithium and cobalt, used in low-carbon energy, EVs and consumer electronics, a new report from the influential committee concludes.
The MPs’ report ‘A Rock and a Hard Place argues that since the 1990s Labour and Conservative administrations have lacked foresight in responding to aggressive capture of large parts of the rare earths market, particularly by China, and the consequent vulnerabilities surrounding Britain’s economic resilience and security.
Even after three decades of growing vulnerability, the MPs argue Britain lags behind our allies in de-risking international supplies of metals essential to decarbonising homes, industries and the UK economy.
They criticise the government’s Critical Minerals Strategy as too broad and lacking in urgency towards decisive action needed in spreading the country’s risk of supply of materials essential to achieving Britain’s Net Zero Commitments.
Published in July last year, the nation’s first ever survey of key metals fails to include assessments of dependencies and vulnerabilities in the essential supplies, the MPs note.
The foreign affairs committee called on ministers to publish specific targets for priority sectors and to provide a more detailed implementation plan. Without a clear steer from Government, the UK risks a scattergun approach to ‘de-risking’ from industry, as well as ineffective use of the UK’s diplomatic leverage, the Committee says.
“This is primarily about power, not trade“, said Alicia Kearns MP, the committee’s chair. “The supply of critical minerals is more a geopolitical issue than a geological one. The scale of the challenge ahead of us is huge, but the need to act now is undeniable.
“From F35 fighter jets to the batteries in our phones, critical minerals are the building blocks of many modern technologies. They are integral to every-day living, the green transition and our nation’s defence.
“China has strategically embedded itself in the middle of the critical minerals supply chain, developing the vast majority of the world’s refining capacity.
“For three decades we have been asleep at the wheel, repeatedly failing to recognise the importance of critical minerals and the dangers of our current reliance on autocratic countries. If China pulls the plug, we will all pay the price
Paul Atherley, founder of waste metal recovery business Pensana, gave evidence to the MPs. Pensana has operations in rare earth recycling on Humberside and Teesside.
Drawing on his experience in the UK and in Australia, Atherley called on Whitehall to aid recycling in what he called ‘midstream’ operations. These are intermediary activities recovering valuable rare metals from existing products, and diverting them into other companies’ fabrications of new products.
Read the MP’s rare metals report here.