Jeremy Corbyn has finally given his personal backing to a new nuclear power plant in Cumbria - just as doubts emerged over its expected Japanese investors.
The Labour leader said that he was now supporting the planned Moorside complex, which is expected to create 20,000 jobs and has become a key issue in the Copeland by-election.
Corbyn has spent weeks refusing to be pinned down on the scheme, and last weekend again told ITV Border that it was ultimately the Government’s decision and the timing was “some way off”.
Yet on Wednesday he told HuffPost UK: “Labour supports new nuclear as part of the UK’s energy mix to keep the lights on and tackle climate change.
“I back the proposed new power station at Moorside which will bring thousands of skilled jobs, and hope the company can provide the necessary assurances on the strike price and value for money.”
His strong backing came as Toshiba announced it was reviewing its entire nuclear operations outside Japan.
The company has a 60% stake in the NuGeon consortium that is driving the Moorside development and the UK government is set to talk to a South Korean firm to replace it.
The Tories have tried to make Corbyn’s anti-nuclear views a key issue in the by-election in Copeland, which was triggered when Labour MP Jamie Reed stood down to take a job at the nearby Sellafield waste plant.
The by-election, which will be held on February 23 at the same time as the Stoke-on-Trent Central contest, will be a key test for Corbyn’s leadership as Labour defends a narrow 2,500 majority from the Tories.
For weeks, Labour activists locally have urged him to give his full backing in supporting the new nuclear plant.
Deputy leader Tom Watson and GMB trade unionists have been campaigning to persuade voters that local Labour candidate Gillian Troughton is a strong backer of nuclear power.
The issue was raised in Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday, when Cumbrian MP John Woodcock asked for Government reassurance about the future of the plant after Toshiba’s announcement.
Theresa May said: “I and the Business Secretary are involved and are keen to see these nuclear deals stay on track.
“I can assure you the Government’s commitment is there.”