Theresa May said that the possibility of the UK withdrawing support for the EU satellite project is ‘not an idle threat’
Theresa May has unveiled a multimillion-pound funding boost for a British rival to the European Union’s Galileo satellite scheme, amid a war of words with Brussels over the project.
The Prime Minister said a £92m commitment to start mapping out a UK alternative to the EU’s global positioning network was no “idle threat”.
Britain – which has so far contributed £1.2bn to the EU-wide project – has been locked in a battle with the European Commission over its future involvement after Brexit.
The UK wants continued involvement as part of an ongoing security deal with the EU, but the Commission has already moved to block British firms from bidding for work on the scheme and raised concerns over sharing sensitive military data with a non-member.
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Speaking on a trip to Africa, the Prime Minister said it was not acceptable for the UK to be relegated to being “an ‘end user’, shut out from security discussions and contracts, and without critical information about the system’s security”.
She added: “So, unless we receive assurance that we can collaborate on a close basis in the future – like the close security partners we aspire to be – we are clear that we will withdraw UK support for Galileo and pursue our own sovereign satellite system. And this is not an idle threat to achieve our negotiating objectives.
“In fact, we’re now taking the next step to deliver a UK alternative to Galileo – investing £92m to create detailed proposals for a groundbreaking UK satellite system. This will ensure the UK’s safety post-Brexit, using the expertise of our world-leading space and security sectors to do so.”
The £92m – taken from a £3bn ‘Brexit readiness’ fund previously unveiled by chancellor Philip Hammond – will pay for a feasibility study to work out how a UK rival might take shape.
The government estimates that it would take 18 months to fully develop a Galileo alternative, and has promised a detailed technical assessment and timetable for its own scheme. Galileo is due to launch in 2020.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has previously warned that disruption to satellite navigation systems – relied on in transport, telecoms and defence – could cost the UK economy £1bn a day.