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. We want to explore how our industries can continue working together, but it is worth noting that current collaborative capability projects, such as Typhoon, are managed bilaterally or with groups of partners, rather than through the EU.
Does the Minister agree that a clear commitment to stay in a customs union with the European Union would provide certainty to industry and investors that they will not be hit by needless tariff barriers after Brexit?
What we need moving forward is a strong relationship with the European Union to ensure that we have as frictionless trade as possible with the European Union. I do not think that remaining within the customs union is a prerequisite for a successful defence industry.
American-owned Darchem in Stillingham is just one of the manufacturing firms in my constituency providing aerospace and other engineering products to the military. It really needs certainty about future tariff-free trading with the EU. Will it get that tariff-free trading?
The Government’s aim and aspiration is to ensure that there will be tariff-free trade with the EU. I think that the company referred to by the hon. Gentleman will be very pleased to see a Government who are proactively pushing forward the combat air agenda. We are world leaders in combat air—as I highlighted, 15% of every F-35 is manufactured here in the United Kingdom. We are leading on this issue, and the Government are supporting industry in that leadership.
The Government have often used EU rules as an excuse for not buying British steel for big defence projects. Can the Minister guarantee today that post Brexit, Royal Navy support ships and similar projects will use 100% British steel?
I wish I could offer the guarantee that the hon. Lady requests, but it is not possible to do so, because the steel required for the parts of the ships that we are building is not currently available from the United Kingdom. In the work that we are doing on the Type 26 frigate, for example, well over 50% of steel, by value, is from the United Kingdom. However, I am sure that the hon. Lady would be the first to complain if we had defects in our capability as a result of buying incorrect steel.
How are the preparations for the UK’s alternative to participation in Galileo going?
That is a crucial question, because our involvement with Galileo is important not just for our own security but for that of the European Union. We have committed significant funds to Galileo over the years. We have an obligation to our industry and to our defence capabilities to ensure that we investigate thoroughly the possibility of remaining within the Galileo programme. However, work is being undertaken on potential alternatives in case they are necessary.
The UK defence industry was on show this week with Operation Catamaran 18, involving UK and French amphibious forces. Can the Minister confirm that HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, two great examples of UK military endeavour, will not be cut in the forthcoming modernising defence programme?
The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the situation. As I articulated in the Westminster Hall debate, Albion and Bulwark are currently expected to be in service until 2033 and 2034 respectively.