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UK Government inaction on critical minerals leaves us vulnerable

15 December 2023

The UK’s critical minerals supply chains are vulnerable due to our continuing dependence on autocracies – in particular China – and the inaction of successive UK governments, a report from the Foreign Affairs Committee has found.

The Foreign Affairs Committee is today publishing its report, “A rock and a hard place: building critical mineral resilience”. Critical minerals, such as lithium and cobalt, are of strategic significance to the UK and are essential to our economic security and to meeting our climate change targets.

The Committee finds that successive UK governments have failed to recognise the importance of critical minerals. They have lacked the foresight to respond to the aggressive capture of large parts of the market, over the last three decades, by China, and the consequent vulnerabilities in terms of our economic resilience and security.

The UK is lagging behind allies in its response to the challenge. The report finds that the Government’s Critical Minerals Strategy is too broad and does not convey the sense of urgency and the need for decisive action if the UK is to compete effectively for resources and meet net zero commitments. 

The Government’s decision not to assess the vulnerabilities and dependencies in the UK’s industrial supply chains before producing the Critical Minerals Strategy is met with criticism from the Committee.

The Committee calls on the Government 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.

Chair comment

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns MP, said:

“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.

“But this reliance has created vulnerability – and in the race for resources the UK is falling behind. 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. 

“It is particularly clear that we need to confront the weakness created by our dependency on a single state: China. These minerals power modern life and if China pulls the plug, we will all pay the price.

“The Government must be able to provide UK industry, as well as current and potential trading partners, with a coherent plan to build critical minerals resilience. We need to move beyond strategy documents and towards implementation, providing clear priorities and supporting industry to deliver. We are in a global competition for technological advantage which we cannot afford to lose.

“This is primarily about power, not trade. 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.”

Further information

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