Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Net Zero Watch: Fears mount Russia will weaponise gas supplies over Ukraine crisis


In this newsletter:

1) Fears mount Russia will weaponise gas supplies over Ukraine crisis
The Times, 24 January 2022
2) Germany’s reliance on Russian gas limits Europe’s options in Ukraine crisis
The Wall Street Journal, 23 January 2022

3) Boris Johnson U-turns over VAT on energy bills and WILL consider scrapping it as part of measures to tackle cost of living crisis
Daily Mail, 24 January 2022
4) Emmanuel Macron hammers EDF as Britain’s nuclear energy future hangs in the balance
The Sunday Times, 23 January 2022
5) Lord Frost lays into Boris with brutal exit speech: ‘We drifted away from those who elected us'
Daily Express, 22 January 2022

6) Rolls-Royce seeks bids for site to make small nuclear power plants
Financial Times, 24 January 2022

7) Craig Mackinlay: Why back ourselves into an expensive energy corner?
The Times, 24 January 2022
8) And finally: British university slaps a TRIGGER warning on George Orwell's 1984 as it contains 'explicit material' which some students may find 'offensive and upsetting'
Mail on Sunday, 24 January 2022

Full details:

1) Fears mount Russia will weaponise gas supplies over Ukraine crisis
The Times, 24 January 2022

Ministers have been warned that they will have to contend with record-breaking gas and petrol prices in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Senior government officials expect Russia to “weaponise” its natural resources by restricting supplies of gas to Europe if the West carries out its threat to impose sanctions.

Ministers have been involved in top-level discussions to assess the impact that a reduced supply of gas from Russia would have on prices in Britain.

The senior officials say that there is no direct risk of gas shortages, but the conflict would push prices from the present historic highs to new record levels. “Unlike some countries the UK hardly imports any Russian gas,” one official said. “But like all countries we are exposed to rising wholesale prices, which would be a significant issue if Russia further restricted supply.”

About half of British gas supplies come from the North Sea and a third through pipelines from Norway. The remainder consists almost entirely of imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which arrive in Britain by sea.

The fear is that LNG supplies in particular could be subject to huge increases in price as they are sold to the highest bidder, with ships even changing direction to sell to the most profitable markets.

Other European countries are far more dependent than Britain on Russian gas. About 40 per cent of Germany’s supplies come from Russia while countries such as Sweden and Finland are almost entirely reliant.

The warnings came as Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, acknowledged the “very significant” risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine and threatened economic sanctions in response. “The world needs to keep its eye on this and be very clear with President Putin that it would not do this cost-free, that there would be a price,” he told the BBC.

“A price in terms of the strenuous defence that we would expect the Ukrainians to put up, but also the economic cost through sanctions, which are of course more effective if the international community speaks as one or at least with a broad consensus.”

His comments followed a highly unusual statement from Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, who released details of an alleged Kremlin plot to install a puppet leadership in Kiev.

Truss’s claims triggered an angry reaction from Moscow and mockery from Yevhen Murayev, a former Ukrainian MP who MI6 suggested could become Ukraine’s president. Murayev said that Britain’s spy agency was “more Mr Bean than James Bond”.

Helima Croft, head of global commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, said: “A Russian invasion of Ukraine could really exacerbate the tightness in this market if they restrict supply. They kind of have us over a barrel right now on energy.”

The Treasury is drawing up measures to help consumers cope with existing high prices when Ofgem increases the energy price cap in April. One option is to allow energy companies to borrow money to keep bills low. That money would be repaid by reducing bills more gradually than usual when wholesale gas and electricity prices fell.

A government spokesman said: “The UK is in no way dependent on Russian gas supply. We meet around half of our supply from within British territorial waters and the vast majority of imports come from reliable suppliers such as Norway. Less than 3 per cent of our gas was sourced from Russia in 2020. The current energy situation is due to high global gas prices, not security of supply.” [...]
see also - Government’s years of irresponsible neglect has left Britain “at mercy of Putin”

2) Germany’s reliance on Russian gas limits Europe’s options in Ukraine crisis
The Wall Street Journal, 23 January 2022
BERLIN—Germany’s dependence on Russian gas has left Europe short of options to sanction Moscow if it invades Ukraine—and itself vulnerable should Russia stop gas exports to the West.
A two-decade-old decision to phase out nuclear power and more recent moves to cut reliance on coal in an effort to bring down CO2 emissions mean Germany is now more reliant on Russian gas than most of its neighbors, not just for heating but also for power generation.

This year, the country’s last three nuclear power plants will be closed, just as Germany faces some of the highest energy prices in the developed world. All German coal plants are due to be closed by 2038.

With cheap gas reliably flowing from Russia for decades, successive governments never built an infrastructure to import more expensive liquefied natural gas from major exporters such as the U.S. or Qatar. The country currently has no LNG terminal of its own.
These factors have converged to make Germany the biggest buyer of Russian gas in the world. It draws more than half of its gas imports from Russia against around 40% on average for the European Union, according to the EU’s statistics agency Eurostat.
The nuclear phaseout and the exit from coal mean this proportion is likely to increase. Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that was completed last year and now awaits formal approval by German regulators, will double capacity for Russian gas exports to the country currently being channeled through the parallel Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
“The decision to phase out nuclear and coal at the same time has made Germany fully dependent on Russian gas and vulnerable to the possibility that Russia could use energy as a weapon,” said Gustav Gressel, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.
Officials in the government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz —whose party, the Social Democrats, has traditionally advocated for close relations with Russia—have said privately that it would mothball Nord Stream 2 in case of Russian aggression.
Publicly, Mr. Scholz hasn’t made any such commitment despite repeated urging from Washington and other allies. The chancellor has echoed his predecessor, Angela Merkel, who presided over the construction of Nord Stream 2, in saying that the pipeline is a purely private-sector project that must be separated from political discussions.

While the Kremlin has recently weaponized gas in its dealings with Eastern Europe, cutting supplies to exert political pressure, it has never done so toward Germany, said Erich Vad, a retired German general and former security adviser to the chancellery. That, he said, had shaped Germany’s positive view of Russia as a reliable energy supplier.
This is changing: The International Energy Agency said earlier this month that Russia is in large part responsible for Europe’s gas shortage and that Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas exporter, had reduced exports to Europe in the fourth quarter at a time when prices were high. The Kremlin has denied using gas as a geopolitical weapon and says that it is delivering on all contractual obligations.
Much of Russia’s gas shipments to Europe are channeled via pipelines traversing Ukraine, some dating back to Soviet times. The ability to replace them with direct gas exports to Germany could allow Russia to wage war on Ukraine without having to worry about transit issues, Mr. Gressel said.
“We have been warning about this scenario for years, and now it is happening,” he said. “The entire European security order is at stake, and Germany needs to be willing to pay a price to defend it.”

Gazprom controls a number of gas-storage facilities dotted across Germany, among the biggest such facilities in Europe. That gives Moscow access to an important buffer system in case of demand peaks and supply bottlenecks.
“If there is Russian military aggression, it will exemplify the degree to which we are dependent on Russian gas and how vulnerable we are to it being used as a political weapon,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank.
German energy prices have already shot up as a result of Europe’s gas shortage, with the Federal Statistics Office reporting on Thursday they were up 69% in December compared with the same month in 2020. The crisis has pushed German energy companies to secure billions of euros in credit to weather the price surge.
Germany has made considerable investments in renewable energy, but the transition away from fossil fuels has been slow and uneven. Natural gas represents around 25% of Germany’s total energy consumption and that will increase as the country shuts down more nuclear and coal plants. The use of natural gas for electricity generation in 2021 was already higher than in 1990, according to the Federal Environment Agency.
“The gas from Russia cannot be replaced in the short term,” Markus Krebber, CEO of one of Germany’s largest utilities, RWE AG , said at the Handelsblatt Energy Summit this month.
Even Germany’s energy infrastructure is highly geared toward Russian exports. In 2018, the government of Ms. Merkel agreed to support the construction of at least one large LNG terminal on the country’s North Sea shore, following pressure from then-President Donald Trump, who threatened Berlin with crippling sanctions against Nord Stream 2.
Ms. Merkel’s government pledged to subsidize the project and drafted a law to force gas infrastructure companies to build connectors to the future terminal. But the entire endeavor was then abandoned when Mr. Trump lost the election last year.
Gas imports from the Netherlands, meanwhile, have continued to decrease as output there declines due to concerns about earthquakes triggered by production drilling.

In a 2015 study commissioned by the economy ministry that simulated an abrupt stoppage of Russian gas deliveries, the authors found that German gas storage facilities would have to be at least 60% full to keep satisfying demand. On Wednesday, with warmer weather still months away, tanks were 44% full, according to data from Gas Infrastructure Europe, an association representing European gas infrastructure operators.
As a result, Germany is now facing an energy trilemma, Ms. Stelzenmüller said, as it needs to balance environmental, social impact and security factors.
“We have wildly underestimated the security part of it,” Ms. Stelzenmüller said. “A large swath of German policy makers want to believe that the Russians are reliable suppliers, which they have been for decades. But now, unfortunately, there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary.”
3) Boris Johnson U-turns over VAT on energy bills and WILL consider scrapping it as part of measures to tackle cost of living crisis
Daily Mail, 24 January 2022
Boris Johnson will consider slashing VAT on energy bills to help struggling families despite appearing to rule it out just three weeks ago.


The measure is one of a number of possible options to tackle the cost of living crisis that the Prime Minister and Chancellor plan to discuss this week.
Earlier this month, Mr Johnson warned that scrapping the disliked tax on domestic fuel could prove a ‘blunt instrument’ that would benefit better-off families more than the needy.

But sources said last night that the option was firmly on the table – although no decisions have yet been made.

Energy firms, Labour and some Tory MPs have piled pressure on ministers to axe the 5 per cent VAT rate on domestic fuel this winter. 
Slashing the levy would cost the Treasury £1.7billion and knock around £60 off an average household fuel bill.
The Prime Minister and Rishi Sunak are hoping to meet to discuss the options this week and intend to make an announcement before February 7 when the energy price cap level is set. It is feared bills could rise by 50 per cent from April. 
A government source last night said the proposed VAT cut has ‘never not been one of several options’ under consideration despite Mr Johnson’s comments, but stressed that no decisions have been made.

Ministers are understood to be increasingly keen for a ‘broad brush’ measure which will help middle-income families as well as those on lower wages.
Full story
see also: Removing green levies from energy bills welcomed


4) Emmanuel Macron hammers EDF as Britain’s nuclear energy future hangs in the balance
The Sunday Times, 23 January 2022
The energy giant is our last hope in the push for big new reactors. But the French president has handed it an almighty financial headache

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng donned a hard hat and a high-vis jacket earlier this month to visit Hinkley Point C — the vast new nuclear power station being built in Somerset by French giant EDF. The tried and tested photo opportunity allowed Kwarteng to reaffirm that the UK is “firmly committed to deploying new nuclear” to provide “continuous, low-carbon electricity at scale”.
At the same moment, across the English Channel, French president Emmanuel Macron was about to spring a nasty surprise on EDF. Macron ordered the company to sell more electricity at knock-down prices to its competitors, in order to keep a lid on soaring energy bills.
For Macron, it makes complete political sense. Three months out from an election, he is keen to temper voter anger over energy costs, which, as in the UK, have been pushed higher by surging gas prices. EDF is 84 per cent owned by the French state and has to bow to its will — even when the government’s intervention is “painful and defies good economic sense”, as newspaper Le Monde put it.

EDF calculated that Macron’s demand would cost it €8.4 billion (£7 billion). The company had no choice but to scrap its profit guidance for the year and warned investors that it may need to seek more capital. Shares in EDF, listed in Paris, plunged.
In a leaked memo, chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy claimed that Macron’s demand was a “real shock”. “It is going to weigh very heavily on our results,” he added. Trade union members at EDF have called for a strike this week in protest at the president’s order.

EDF, which is a big player in the UK and Italy as well as France, reported revenues in the nine months to September of €57.1 billion — a 15.7 per cent uplift. However, its debt pile is pushing €41 billion. Its health matters to the UK because the future of our nuclear energy programme depends on its involvement.

A string of companies have backed out of British projects in recent years, while the UK government has indicated that it will no longer countenance working with the Chinese — leaving the French operator as the last man standing.
Macron’s edict, though, could not have come at a worse time for EDF, which was already facing huge demands on its capital. On the same day that Kwarteng toured Hinkley, the company cut its expected output of nuclear power this year by 8 per cent, after warning that five faulty reactors in France would have to stay offline while being serviced for longer than expected. This pushed the total number of EDF reactors currently offline to nine.

At a time when France— and Europe — is crying out for lower energy prices, EDF is unable to add to supply.

“The key question is how many reactors will be found to have safety problems requiring unplanned outages?” said analyst Sam Arie at the Swiss bank UBS. “We assume inspections are ongoing in the rest of the fleet, and this is now the greatest uncertainty for the group.”

Fitch, the ratings agency, downgraded EDF’s creditworthiness last week, warning that its net debt could rise by €12 billion this year.

EDF is midway through a long, slow upgrade of France’s fleet of 56 ageing nuclear reactors; this project could cost it at least €50 billion. And, earlier this month, it pushed back the start date and nudged up the expected cost for its new reactor at Flamanville in France; the project’s cost has quadrupled from initial estimates in 2004.

Flamanville’s overruns have their parallels at Hinkley Point, which is also years late and over budget. It uses the same type of European pressurised water reactor (EPR) as Hinkley, too. Other EPRs designed by EDF have run into problems: the much-delayed Olkiluoto nuclear power plant in Finland is now finally looking to start up this year; and Taishan — in Guangdong province in China — has been offline since July because of a fault.

Taishan was supposed to be EDF’s “proof of principle for the EPR design”, said Paul Dorfman, associate fellow in the science policy research unit at Sussex University. “But that has not been the case. To shut down the reactor is hugely expensive in terms of power, reputation, and in potential safety … The EPR reactor has failed miserably in terms of cost overruns everywhere that it’s been built.”

Sources close to EDF pointed out that the problems with the EPRs were different in every case, and did not represent a generic fault. And Tom Greatrex, chief executive of trade body the Nuclear Industry Association, said the company would be able to work out the kinks: “The more you build, the more you improve.” Britain’s own fleet of nuclear plants will wind down this decade, he noted: “We need Hinkley because our current fleet has reached the end of its generating life.”

The company is sticking with its design, and Macron wants about six new EPR reactors in France. That idea has the backing of his conservative rival in the forthcoming election, Valérie Pécresse, who has said: “We must think about our energy policy with two imperatives: global warming, but also the independence of our country.”

France went further than its European neighbours in embracing nuclear power and now sees it as a vital source of zero-emission energy that also makes the country less vulnerable to volatile gas prices. The same rationale for nuclear has been applied by UK ministers, who have said that intermittent renewable energy needs to be supplemented by the “baseload” power that nuclear can generate. The government wants another large-scale plant after Hinkley, as well as small modular reactors (SMRs) that could be built by the likes of Rolls-Royce.

EDF remains confident that Hinkley will be completed by 2026. Five and a half years into construction, it is now at the halfway point. When operational, it will supply 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity.

About half of the £23 billion earmarked for Hinkley has already been spent, and the remainder is expected to come from EDF’s €27.5 billion cash pile. Hinkley, in other words, should be completed despite the company’s travails. The outlook for EDF’s Sizewell B in Suffolk, the next big nuclear project in the queue, is less clear.
Full story
5) Lord Frost lays into Boris with brutal exit speech: ‘We drifted away from those who elected us'
Daily Express, 22 January 2022

"I don't think Conservatives should be raising taxes in the way that we decided to, I don't think we should be rushing at the net-zero policy in quite the way that we're doing at the moment."

FORMER Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost accused Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party of "drifting away" from their electorate as the party pursues policies Lord Frost said he refused to support.

Lord Frost appeared on GB News where he laid into the Conservative Party for ignoring the voters who put them in power in the first place. The peer was very critical of the Government's coronavirus strategy and chose to step down as Brexit Minister, allowing him to voice his concerns publically. He warned Boris Johnson of the "peril" of "drifting away" from their core electorate and was frustrated the party did not represent a traditional conservative free-market government.

Speaking on GB News, Lord Frost was grilled over his departure from the Conservative Party with presenter Mark Steyn asking the former minister to explain his grievances with the "direction" of the Government.

Lord Frost replied: "Yeah, I think it's only partly a conservative free-market government.

"That's the problem and I don't think Conservatives should be raising taxes in the way that we decided to, I don't think we should be rushing at the net-zero policy in quite the way that we're doing at the moment.

"Climate change is a problem, I don't think by any means it's the most serious problem the country faces.

"We need to be much more serious about deregulating, sweeping away regulation, changing things, doing things differently so that we get the benefits of what we've done.

"If we know anything for the last 200 years, it's free markets, free economies, free choice, ability to pursue your own destiny and choose your own futures to provide for your family, that produces prosperity.

"We move away from that at our peril, so that was my concern."
Full story
6) Rolls-Royce seeks bids for site to make small nuclear power plants
Financial Times, 24 January 2022

Rolls-Royce, the UK aero-engine maker, has launched a competition between regions in England and Wales to be the location of the main factory to build a planned fleet of small nuclear reactors.

A Rolls-Royce image of how the mini-nuclear facilities might look © Rolls Royce

An industry consortium led by Rolls-Royce has written to several of England’s regional development bodies and the Welsh government asking them to pitch for the manufacturing site, promising investment of up to £200m and the creation of up to 200 direct jobs.

The consortium secured £210m from the government last year towards the development of a fleet of mini-reactors after raising a similar amount of private sector funding.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson backed small modular reactors as part of his 10-point plan for a “green industrial revolution” to help meet the government’s 2050 net zero carbon target. The technology is viewed within the government as a good way to create manufacturing jobs as well as delivering on Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda to help less developed areas.

Under the plans, the reactors will be built in factories around the country and then assembled on site, reducing the risks and huge costs of construction of big nuclear power plants. The main factory will build the heavy pressure vessels that are part of the reactors.

In its pitch sent to the Local Enterprise Partnerships, voluntary bodies designed to bring business and council leaders together to help set local economic priorities, Rolls-Royce promised that the community chosen to host the factory would benefit from “high value, sustainable jobs which will produce products that will be exported globally for many decades to come”. 

The company added that it was looking for proposals that identified “sites based on our selection criteria in your region together with supporting evidence or financial and non- financial support where appropriate”.

Rolls-Royce is not believed to be looking for cash from local councils but is interested in what sort of skills training facilities already exist, how much land is available and local incentives for the deployment of on-site renewable power generation among other things. The company intends to build other, smaller facilities to build modules for the reactors.

The reactors themselves will be installed at existing nuclear sites in Britain. Rolls-Royce has not yet committed to any sites but Wylfa and Trawsfynydd in north Wales are believed to be under consideration.

The company and its partners, which include Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and France’s wealthy Perrodo family, expect to decide on where to locate the factory this year and to start construction soon after. They face a tight timetable if they are to stay on track to meet their ambition to complete the first 470MW plant by the early 2030s. Alongside the site selection, the companies are putting their SMR design through the UK’s rigorous nuclear regulatory regime, a process that is expected to take up to four years.

Full story
7) Craig Mackinlay: Why back ourselves into an expensive energy corner?
The Times, 24 January 2022
A renewables powered future would lock the public into electricity prices commensurate to those that are causing such pain and anguish today but into perpetuity. 

While the debate over energy policy has always burned very hot, there is at least a measure of agreement over the cause of the current crisis. So, while some holdouts are still trying to make a case that renewables didn’t cause the doubling of electricity prices between 2002 and 2021, there is general accord over the reason for the sudden lurch to even higher levels this winter: it’s all down to gas prices.

That’s because gas sets the market price for electricity. Suppliers are committed to buying lots of wind power, but gas tends to have to make up any remaining gap between supply and demand and is responsible, broadly, for 40 per cent of UK electricity generation. So it’s the price of gas that matters in pricing.

But why has gas become so expensive? It’s not as if there’s a shortage, even in Europe. The north of England and central Scotland are floating on a sea of the stuff; huge deposits have been found in the Eastern Mediterranean, and there are more scattered across other parts of Europe too.

The problem is – as usual – politics. With much of their publics gripped by a quasi-religious belief in imminent climate catastrophe, politicians have simply acceded to the demands of the green lobby, and instituted bans and moratoriums across the continent. Is it any wonder that prices have gone up?

To make it worse, coal fired power stations have been shut in many countries, in some there has been an aggressive phasing out of nuclear and industrial production levels have returned as international Covid lockdowns ease, further increasing demand for gas. Contrast that situation with the USA, where shale deposits have been exploited, and gas prices have been as little as one tenth of those in the UK.

But here the mood of accord ends. The green lobby is still arguing fervently that the solution is further expansion of the renewables fleet and, as if to answer their call, the Crown Estate announced this week that it has leased rights to the seabed to a further 25 GW of offshore windfarms, more than half of it floating. This will double the size of the UK’s wind fleet, so it’s a big deal.

Unfortunately, as is now widely recognised, having windfarms doesn’t stop you needing gas. In fact, the Committee on Climate Change reckons that demand will only fall by 30 per cent or so by 2050, because it is needed for a variety of reasons, including providing power when the wind isn’t blowing, or when it is blowing in the wrong place, or when turbines have to be switched off because the wind is blowing too hard.

What is worse, deploying renewables simply locks us into a high-cost future. Of the major forms of renewable energy, the lowest cost is onshore wind.

However, as a paper published today shows, it is roughly double the long-term cost of gas-fired power, having been rising steadily for the last decade (presumably because the best sites have been taken already and more vociferous and structured local opposition to such sites has grown).

Offshore wind is even more expensive – three to four times the cost of gas – and at best is only becoming marginally cheaper over time. And floating offshore is more like five to six times as expensive as gas. The current high cost of renewables will rise substantially if eye-wateringly expensive battery storage, of which we currently have very little, prevails as the primary energy storage method.

Think about what this means for you at home. Crudely, the 15p/kWh you were paying for electricity before the recent price surge was 5p for the power itself, and 10p for everything else – the cost of getting it to you, VAT and so on. With gas prices where they are, think more in terms of 15p for the power, so a total of 25p. Ouch.

However, 15p/kWh is not far off the figure for power from offshore windfarms, or perhaps 22p if it’s a floating one. Adding in the cost of getting the power to you means a figure of 32p/kWh. At that price, it costs £280 to run a 100 watt lightbulb for a year. Again this is before the real impact of battery storage costs.

Renewables advocates like to point to the very low ‘strike prices’ at which some windfarms have agreed to sell power to the grid, but in reality these are meaningless. Not only are they not binding, but they only last for part of the windfarm’s life.

It is widely recognised that the so-called ‘merchant tail’, after the end of the subsidy period, will play a big part in these generators’ business plans. They may sell to you cheaply at first, but they aim to get their money back in the end. Financial accounts do not, as a rule, lie, and windfarm financial accounts show that their costs remain spectacularly high.

And at the end of the day, the money to pay for it can only come from one place: your pocket, either directly or through general taxation substitution.

Fossil fuel prices can go lower – much lower – as they have been for most of the last century. A renewables powered future, on the other hand, would lock the public into electricity prices commensurate to those that are causing such pain and anguish today but into perpetuity. It’s hard to fathom why anyone would think that was a good idea.

Craig Mackinlay is MP for South Thanet
8) And finally: British university slaps a TRIGGER warning on George Orwell's 1984 as it contains 'explicit material' which some students may find 'offensive and upsetting'
Mail on Sunday, 24 January 2022

As one of the greatest works in Britain’s literary canon, Nineteen Eighty-Four sounds a chilling warning about the dangers of censorship.

Now staff at the University of Northampton have issued a trigger warning for George Orwell’s novel on the grounds that it contains ‘explicit material’ which some students may find ‘offensive and upsetting’.

The advice, revealed following a Freedom of Information request by The Mail on Sunday, has infuriated critics, who say it runs contrary to the themes in the book.

Published in 1949, Orwell’s dystopian story – set in a totalitarian state which persecutes individual thinking – gave the world phrases such as ‘Big Brother’, ‘Newspeak’ and ‘thought police’.

Its plot centres on Winston Smith, a government employee who is arrested and tortured over an illicit love affair, but it also makes powerful points about what can happen to a society that doesn’t cherish academic freedoms or its own history.
Yet it is one of several literary works which have been flagged up to students at Northampton who are studying a module called Identity Under Construction. They are warned that the module ‘addresses challenging issues related to violence, gender, sexuality, class, race, abuses, sexual abuse, political ideas and offensive language’.

In addition to Orwell’s book, academics identify several works in the module that have the potential to be ‘offensive and upsetting’ including the Samuel Beckett play Endgame, the graphic novel V For Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd and Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing The Cherry.

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: ‘There’s a certain irony that students are now being issued trigger warnings before reading Nineteen Eighty-Four. Our university campuses are fast becoming dystopian Big Brother zones where Newspeak is practised to diminish the range of intellectual thought and cancel speakers who don’t conform to it.

‘Too many of us – and nowhere is it more evident than our universities – have freely given up our rights to instead conform to a homogenised society governed by a liberal elite “protecting” us from ideas that they believe are too extreme for our sensibilities.’

Orwell biographer David Taylor said: ‘I think 13-year-olds might find some scenes in the novel disturbing, but I don’t think anyone of undergraduate age is really shocked by a book any more.’

The seminal novel has regularly been adapted for stage and screen, including an acclaimed film starring John Hurt.

Northampton has also issued warnings over other modules on its English degree course. Students are alerted, for example, that Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time includes ‘death of an animal, ableism and disability and offensive language’.

References to ‘gender, sexuality, abuse, violence, self-harm, suicide’ are also flagged up in Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which was adapted for a successful BBC series in 2020 starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal.
Northampton, which gained full university status only in 2005, is ranked 101st in a list of the UK’s 121 universities.
A spokesman said: ‘While it is not university policy, we may warn students of content in relation to violence, sexual violence, domestic abuse and suicide. In these circumstances we explain to applicants as part of the recruitment process that their course will include some challenging texts. This is reinforced by tutors as they progress through their programme of studies.
‘We are aware some texts might be challenging for some students and have accounted for this when developing our courses.’

Earlier this month, The Mail on Sunday reported how Salford University students have been given a ‘trigger warning’ over Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations.

English literature undergraduates are warned of ‘scenes and discussions of violence and sexual violence in several of the primary texts’ that they may find ‘distressing’.

The London-based Net Zero Watch is a campaign group set up to highlight and discuss the serious implications of expensive and poorly considered climate change policies. The Net Zero Watch newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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