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Tory donor to challenge UK government decision to block subsea project

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The Ukraine-born tycoon involved in a proposed £1.2bn undersea cable project between the UK and France has said he will seek a judicial review against the decision by business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to reject the project this week.

Alexander Temerko, a former arms executive and one-time director of Russian oil company Yukos, said lawyers from Herbert Smith would prepare their legal case over the next six weeks.

“It will be impossible for the government to defeat our challenge,” he told the Financial Times in an interview on Friday. “I have a very good case . . . the government cannot win.”

Although the project has been dogged by protests by hundreds of local people, Temerko insisted that the long report produced by the Planning Inspectorate, which informed Kwarteng’s decision, had been broadly positive.

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Temerko and his business partner Viktor Fedotov, a Russian-born oil tycoon, have through their company Aquind spent £60m on preliminary work on the project. This includes £30m on a development consent order for the project for a 148-mile subsea electricity cable linking the French and British power grids.

Temerko, who was born in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union, is, along with Fedotov, a British citizen. They have donated a total of £1.5m to Britain’s ruling Conservative party. That money has been given directly to the party and also to 33 MPs or their local constituency parties by Aquind, Temerko, and another company linked to him, called ONG.

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Aquind hired Lord Callanan, now a business minister, as a non-executive director from 2016 to 2017 although he was recused from this week’s decision.

Temerko, who is vice-president of the Cities of London & Westminster Conservative Association, said he would continue to donate to the party irrespective of the government’s decision.

“I love the Conservative party,” he said. “It’s not connected to my business interests. I started supporting the Conservative party before Aquind [was founded], probably 2010.”

Kwarteng’s ruling against the scheme was based on local planning concerns in Portsmouth, the proposed landing site for the cable in the UK, including the impact on a “very densely populated” area of the city and its potential for delaying work on a coastal defence scheme.

Aquind has been criticised not only by some Labour MPs but also by Penny Mordaunt, the Tory MP for Portsmouth North and a trade minister. She submitted a report to the planning authorities in December criticising the project on “security grounds” given it would leave Britain more reliant on France for energy.

Temerko hit out at what he called Mordaunt’s “political interference” in the project, arguing it was inappropriate for a sitting minister to speak out against it. He said it was “nonsense” to suggest that France might cut off future energy supplies to Britain. “It’s our neighbour, and France never creates tension or problems with electricity.”

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Mordaunt said late on Friday: “The judgement concluded the scheme did more harm than good. Our community worked hard for years to make this case and it had been accepted. Not for the first time in our history, the residents of Portsmouth have done our city and the country a service.”

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Temerko said that the project — which would take two years to build — would have had the potential to deliver more than 5 per cent of Britain’s electricity needs.

He said the scheme would have also helped to cut energy bills for households and businesses because France, with its large fleet of nuclear power plants, is less dependent on the international wholesale price of gas.

The scheme had been designated as “nationally significant infrastructure project” four years ago as part of a wider drive by the UK grid to expand its reliance on interconnectors with countries including France, Belgium and Norway.

The government said: “The secretary of state has refused development consent. We cannot comment further on any potential legal proceedings.”

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