Britain threatens REVENGE on EU after Brussels set to BLOCK UK from major project
BRITAIN could launch its own satellite navigation system to rival the EU’s Galileo project after being snubbed by Brussels in a major Brexit security row.
The European Commission wants to block UK access to secure parts of the project once it leaves the block in a growing storm over Europe’s most sensitive information
Brexit Secretary David Davis is said to be “furious” over the commission’s stance after negotiators held frosty discussions with their EU counterparts in Brussels last week.
A senior UK government official said: “They’re playing hardball. We’re looking at a range of options, but unless they back down, we will withdraw from Galileo.
“We are scoping the possibility of launching our own system.”
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said the Galileo project “needs to be prepared for Brexit”.
While Brussels is excluding UK companies from being involved in developing its sensitive infrastructure, the EU insists UK use of the highly-encrypted part of the Galileo system is open to negotiation.
Mr Barnier said: “The EU cannot share security-relevant proprietary information with countries outside the EU.
“But there are of course ways Galileo can co-operate with third countries and these are open to the UK as well.”
Furious Business Secretary Greg Clark is now taking legal advice on whether Britain can reclaim the £1.22bn it has invested in Galileo since the project’s launch in 2003.
Mr Clark said: “We have made it clear we do not accept the commission’s position on Galileo, which could seriously damage mutually beneficial collaboration on security and defence matters.
“Given the UK’s integral role in the programme, any such exclusion could cause years of delays and a cost increase stretching into the billions.”
Britain is now preparing to block the approval of procurement for the next batch of Galileo satellites, designed as a rival to the Pentagon’s GPS system, at a Berlin meeting of the European Space Agency council.
Ministers are also looking at whether the UK could respond by refusing to let the EU use ground stations for Galileo in two British overseas territories, the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.
In a letter to the European Commission last week, Mr Clark hinted that the UK would take tough action if Brussels did not back down on barring UK access to Galileo’s secure elements.
He said Britain hosted “infrastructure” for Galileo services, adding he hoped the UK could “continue to do so” under an EU security partnership.
Mr Clark said the government would “continue to work with the UK space sector on this issue and through our modern Industrial Strategy will ensure the UK can realise the opportunities of the commercial space age”.
Tension has risen in recent days after the commission refused to back down despite repeated entreaties by London, which has urged a post-Brexit security and defence treaty with the EU.
Ministers are studying the possibility of pooling existing resources to create a lower-cost GPS rival.
They are also looking at whether the UK could work with the US to create a complementary and highly secure system akin to Galileo’s Public Regulated Service, the highly-encrypted part that is designed to continue operating even if other navigation systems are jammed.