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Leaving the EU: Defence and Military Aerospace Industry

Volume 639: debated on Monday 23 April 2018

8. What assessment he has made of the effect on the defence and military aerospace industry of the UK leaving the EU. (904866)

The Ministry of Defence is working closely with the defence industry to understand the implications and opportunities presented by the UK’s departure from the European Union. Through our future partnership with the European Union, we want to explore how our industries can continue working together to deliver the capabilities that we need. It is, however, worth noting that current major European collaborative capability projects, such as Typhoon, are managed bilaterally or with groups of partners rather than through the EU.

Last month, we heard that the UK could no longer participate in the Galileo satellite programme post Brexit. That is a huge blow for our industry as a whole and our defence capabilities in particular. Will the Minister tell us exactly what he is doing about it?

I agree that the issue of Galileo is concerning. We have made representations at the highest level to both the European Union and the French Government. We believe that this is an important issue and that the UK’s contribution to the Galileo programme is significant. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree, however, that the European Commission’s comment that the UK would be a security risk is simply unacceptable.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is crucial that any synergies in terms of industrial strategy across military expenditure should be concentrated on NATO, where there is a plethora of different weapons systems and pieces of equipment? It is much more important to concentrate on the fact that Britain is remaining a key player in the NATO alliance.

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that NATO is the mainstay of our defence capabilities, and I also agree that the relationship with NATO partners is significant and important for the future. From an industrial capability perspective, however, I think that the Prime Minister made a clear commitment to our willingness to work with our European partners in the future, and I hope that they will demonstrate the same good will in return.

Protecting our sovereign military aerospace capability is very important. However, the Typhoon orders will last only until 2026; we have no new orders for the Hawk until the Qatar deal comes through; and Taranis is being kept in a big hangar and we do not really know what is happening with it. What is the position of our UK aerospace defence industries? The lead time is at least 10 years. What discussions has the Minister had about the sixth-generation strike fighter, for example?

The hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will meet the Qatari Defence Minister later this afternoon to discuss the Typhoon and Hawk orders. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the long time that it takes to develop new capabilities. We launched the combat air strategy so that we would have an idea of how we should proceed. The United Kingdom has a huge capability in this sphere and we need to build on it.

The United Kingdom’s defence expenditure accounts for about 20% of total EU defence expenditure. What is being done to encourage our allies to up their defence spending?

I entirely agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend. I think it is fair to say that when Ministers—including me—meet our opposite numbers from the European Union, they stress the need for other EU countries that are in NATO to fulfil the 2% obligation. It is interesting to note that some of the Baltic states, for example, are very clear about their commitment, but we need some of the larger players in Europe to fulfil their obligations as well.