The Galileo Space Programme needs British Involvement

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This article was originally published on The Conservative Online

The spiteful approach adopted by Eurocrats throughout the Brexit talks has been widely reported over the past 12 months. The irrational suggestion Britain may be locked out of Galileo – Europe’s global navigation satellite system – is the latest example of the EU threatening to ‘cut off its nose to spite its face’. Rather than negotiate upon the premise of mutual goodwill and cooperation, the EU has allowed its resentment of the UK’s departure to overcome common sense.

Blinded by the all-encompassing ambition of trying to punish Britain, many in the European Commission have lost sight of what is actually in the EU’s interests after Brexit. By seeking to end our participation in the venture – run by the European Space Agency – they would be severing links with the world’s second largest space industry, with all the expertise and acumen this brings, and would needlessly undermine the security provisions available to the Continent.

It cannot be forgotten British intelligence services play a leading role in guaranteeing the safety of Europe. Whether it be through collating and analysing information which can be used to support counter-terrorism operations, or possessing the necessary ability to formulate efficient responses to crises, Britain’s contribution is invaluable. Deliberately withholding potentially crucial data, therefore, seems not just short-sighted, but driven by a mindset of irrationality.

Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, highlights how the Commission is actively acting against the wishes of the EU27: “What has been notable as I have spoken to so many defence ministers across Europe is that they think the EU Commission’s view is wrong”

The meek justification for denying the UK access to this information – which could help save lives – is that after Brexit, there would be security concerns over handing such information to a non-Member State. Yet, the participation of Israel, Norway and Canada seems to have been conveniently forgotten in this instance. These countries are outside the EU, yet are able to partake in the manufacture of satellites, computer systems, and the sharing of intelligence.

Suggesting a strong and historic ally cannot be trusted with intelligence is one thing, but this approach seemingly flies in the face of what the European Council, in March, said they wanted from the future UK-EU relationship, namely “as close as possible a partnership” in “the fight against terrorism and international crime, as well as security”.  By restricting the flow of intelligence between the two sides, the EU is undermining this commitment, constructing unnecessary obstacles, and playing politics with an issue which deserves a more appropriate degree of consideration.

On top of this, Britain’s contribution to the project reflects the fact we are one of the countries at the forefront of this new industry. Having carried out nearly 20% of the work so far, including the manufacturing of a large proportion of the 22 satellites currently in space, we have also spent over £1 billion so far on helping to get it up and running. To exclude us now would see the project suffering a dearth of expertise, and potentially a fatal shortfall in funding. This is particularly pertinent regarding the EU Divorce Bill. If the EU pushes Britain away from the negotiating table and loses out on our £40 billion; projects across the Continent – such as Galileo – will potentially face a financial disaster.

It has been reported the decision to exclude British companies from the ongoing manufacturing process was one pushed by French President Macron. As the process enters the next round of tendering contracts, the diminutive President hopes that by banning British companies from being able to bid, French firms will have a greater opportunity. However, the French aerospace industry is currently facing a crippling recruitment crisis and this, coupled with national employment laws which have led to weeks, perhaps months of industrial action just starting, greatly dampens the appeal of awarding lucrative contracts to French companies.

This stands in stark contrast to Airbus, a British company, which is surging ahead as the world’s largest communications satellite manufacturer, and the second largest space company on the planet. Losing access to this company’s world-leading expertise would seriously hamstring the development of the Galileo satellites!

Also, it is well worth reminding Eurocrats, key infrastructure for the programme is located on British territories, with the Falkland Islands, Ascension Island and Diego Garcia all being of upmost importance for the continuation the programme. By having dishes on these islands, Galileo is able to reach areas which would otherwise fail to be covered, allowing it to boast an extensive network. Losing Britain’s participation, and therefore the access to its territories, would be a crushing blow for a project, which is still underdeveloped.

Quite rightly, there are growing calls for the British Government to begin serious investment into developing our own space programme. Not only would this lead to a fantastic boost for what is already a thriving industry, but by investing in the necessary education and training, it would allow us to establish ourselves as world leaders in the field. Given the head start we already have over our European neighbours, many in the industry feel it is about time the appropriate plans should be made for our future.

Indeed, the Defence Department is having “early discussions” on developing our own satellite programme, in what would be a fantastically exciting move for a whole host of interrelated industries. It would also be a great display of post-Brexit Britain’s willingness to be at the forefront of the 21st Century’s new industries.

Locking Britain out of this programme would be a disaster for the EU. Our cutting-edge expertise has been the key driving force behind the development of Galileo so far, and erecting barriers to security co-operation is a political move with grossly more severe consequences for them than for us. The Great British Public voted to Get Britain Out of the European Union – this latest tantrum by Eurocrats shows just how much they resent us for it!

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