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Brexit: Aerospace Industry

Volume 778: debated on Monday 6 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of Brexit on the aerospace industry.

My Lords, we have engaged with the UK aerospace sector and are aware of the potential issues that the UK’s exit from the EU may have. Our aim is to keep the UK the leading aerospace nation in Europe and we will continue our long-standing support for the sector. That includes a matched co-funding of some £3.9 billion for a research and development programme to 2026.

Are the Government aware of the cross-border problems with the supply chain in aerospace? I am concerned about the European Aviation Safety Agency—where we play a key role—which certifies the safety of aircraft products. That is a profoundly important area. I am not sure—and this applies to other agencies, too—how the Government plan to move that forward in agencies, particularly where we play the lead role and will no longer be able to do so after Brexit.

My Lords, the EASA is indeed extremely important, as are other European agencies. We will negotiate with those agencies over the next two years to come to a sensible arrangement.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a shame that the party opposite is so slow in catching up with its leadership?

I wonder what leadership my noble friend is referring to. I am sure that the party opposite is wholly united behind its leader.

My Lords, as the Minister well knows, a defence strategy refresher paper is to be published in the middle of the year. Never mind Brexit; is he aware that if that paper fails, as did the national strategy, to make a clear commitment on behalf of the Government in favour of retaining and preserving Britain’s capacity to design and manufacture its own helicopters, as we have done for 70 years for the benefit of our Armed Forces and our export markets, there is a real danger that that capacity will be lost, together with hundreds of jobs in Yeovil and elsewhere and a crucial part of the national aerospace asset? Why can everybody else see that danger but the Government seem blind to it?

My Lords, I do not agree with the last part of the noble Lord’s question. The capacity to manufacture helicopters in the UK is extremely important and the MoD is very much committed to doing that. As the noble Lord says, we will publish a refresh strategy later in the year, which I am sure will make that clear.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the European Aviation Safety Agency plays a crucial role in excluding from European airspace and European airports any aircraft that originates from countries or companies that have poor safety records? By that means it safeguards the security and well-being of people right across this continent. Because of the importance of that, will the Minister give me an undertaking now that, whatever the other outcomes of Brexit, we will retain full participation in the European Aviation Safety Agency?

My Lords, I can confirm that safety is absolutely paramount. How that is achieved between the workings of the CAA and the EASA will have to be resolved over the next two years.

My Lords, another European agency of crucial importance to safety, which the Minister will know about from his previous role, is the EMA—the medicines evaluation agency currently located in London. It is important not only for the NHS but for the pharmaceutical industry. When the Minister is looking at future co-operation and arrangements, will he ensure that that agency and our relationships with it are also safeguarded?

My Lords, the relationship between the MHRA and the EMA, similar to that between the CAA and the EASA, is absolutely critical. The MHRA, from my memory, does 40% of the work of the EMA—so the relationship between those two organisations will indeed be very important.

My Lords, as one of the largest contributors to the European Investment Bank, what influence have we had over the money that it has just given to the European Defence Fund, which was set up in November, and the subsequent allocation by the European Defence Agency for defence and aerospace procurement all around Europe?

The noble Lord raises such an interesting question that I cannot actually answer him, so I will have to write to him afterwards.

My Lords, will the Minister explain why, in the case of the air and the medical agencies that have just been discussed, the Government are looking into how this can be integrated with Brexit, but they have already made a decision to leave Euratom without any debate at all? They are all the same kind of safety regulators: what is the difference?

My Lords, I think that the difference is that the Euratom treaty was inextricably linked to the original European Communities treaty. When we exercise Article 50, it will automatically have an effect on the Euratom agreement, whereas the other issues that we are looking at are regulatory issues in which we have a much greater degree of discretion about how we work together in the future.