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Brexit: Galileo Space Project

Volume 790: debated on Thursday 26 April 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to continue United Kingdom participation in the Galileo space project after Brexit.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has made clear to our European partners our desire to continue the United Kingdom’s involvement in EU space programmes, including Galileo, provided that the UK and UK companies can continue to participate on a fair and open basis. The Government are engaging with the EU to this end.

My Lords, the Government have threatened to withdraw their support if we are not a fully participating member and not trusted with all the security arrangements. Does the Minister agree that that saying “If you do not trust us, we will go elsewhere and we want our money back” is an empty threat unless we have a practical alternative? What is that alternative and does it deal with the worrying lack of trust, which could extend to other matters relating to security, defence and our safety?

My Lords, given our history, I find the lack of trust very confusing, but certainly we can look at other options. We have made it clear in a letter that my right honourable friend has sent to all appropriate Ministers in the other 27 countries that we wish to continue to participate in this programme. So far, we have had only a letter from the Commission itself setting out its view that we should not take part. In our view, that would be folly of the worst sort: it would increase costs for the whole programme by €1 billion and possibly delay it for three years.

My Lords, have negotiations begun on the Prime Minister’s proposals for a security treaty with the European Union? If they have begun or are about to begin, will they cover the security aspects of the Galileo programme and perhaps provide a way of avoiding what can be described only as mutually assured damage?

My Lords, I am not aware of whether they have begun but certainly they would provide a way to deal with this matter. The noble Lord is right to stress that there would be mutually assured damage if the Commission was to continue with its suggestion that we should not participate in this programme.

My Lords, as with the FSA question, is this not a case of where Brexit bravado comes up against the brick wall of reality? If we leave the EU and then have an associate agreement with it of one kind or another, which the Minister cannot define at the moment, it will be weaker than full participation in the Galileo programme. Airbus has already taken its Galileo project out of this country in advance. We will be left for both security and space reasons either seeking such agreements with the United States or the European Union, or, we are now told, going it alone—with a minimum cost of £5 billion. They did not put that on the side of a bus.

My Lords, if not anything else, it suggests the folly of the Commission in making this suggestion. Other countries have not said that they would not like us to participate. That is why my right honourable friend is engaging with other countries. There are benefits to the UK and to the whole EU with us continuing to participate. I repeat that if we do not participate—we are one of the lead players in this—the extra costs of this programme would be €1 billion and it would delay what is a good programme by up to three years.

Following on from that question and answer, is the Minister aware that the digital security factor involved in this is crucial? The French are already making major efforts across the board to take work from British satellite and aerospace companies because we have a lead in such manufacturing. We will lose that lead to particularly France and Europe generally unless we can sign up to some digital security deal. That is vital and the Government need to say so, otherwise we will lose out massively.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a perfectly good point. My right honourable friend has made these points in his letter to the other Ministers involved in this country. That is why the other Ministers— certainly in my department, and in others—have already started engaging on this and will continue to do so. This is a proposal from the Commission but we want to see what the other countries feel about it as well.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the Government investigating co-operation with other partners. If we are talking about other Governments with satellite programmes, I imagine it is a choice of China, Russia, India and the United States. Are the Government investigating all of those as options?

My Lords, all I said—I am not going to go much further than this—is that we are looking at other options. I also stress that we have the capability to do quite a lot ourselves. I am not suggesting that we will engage with Russia and other similar countries.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that we work closely with America in this field—most of the work is so sensitive we cannot talk about it—and that we were so far ahead of anyone else in the world in satellite coverage and intelligence that we used to help other countries. It is extraordinary that Europe is now playing silly games about the use of satellites when we have been so generous in the past in the giving of intelligence and working with it. It is also extraordinary, given the skills that we have in this area, that it is not keen to keep us fully involved.

The noble Lord could hardly have put it better, particularly in stressing the capabilities that we have in this country. Only recently I visited an American company making micro-satellites in Glasgow. It could have invested anywhere in the world but it chose Glasgow because it knew Glasgow has the right people with the right skills here in the United Kingdom. We have a great capability and I am sure other people will recognise this.

My Lords, just for the record, I say that we already co-operate with the Russians in the Soyuz and space station programme, in which Tim Peake flew and which is highly successful. Does the Minister agree that, if we can co-operate with the Russians despite everything, surely we should not have too many problems with the European Union?