CONSERVATIVE CONFERENCE Gavin Williamson threatens to block EU satellite bases from British ¿territories
A Galileo satellite is launched from Kourou, French Guiana: the system will rely partly on dishes and boosters located on British overseas territoriesGavin Williamson has threatened to block the EU from using UK overseas territories for a major satellite system if Britain is locked out of it after Brexit.
The defence secretary issued the first public warning that Brussels would be prevented from basing ground stations for the Galileo satellitein the Falklands, Diego Garcia or Ascension Island unless Britain is given access after leaving the bloc.
The £8.5 billion satellite, which is not yet fully operational, will rely partly on dishes and boosters located on British overseas territories to give it global reach. The project is designed to give Europe an encrypted navigation system similar to the Global Positioning System (GPS) developed by the US
As a world leader in satellite technology, British companies have so far delivered a significant portion of the technical expertise towards Galileo, as well as 12 per cent of the cost. The British military wanted access to the system to supplement its use of GPS.
Mr Williamson has now stepped up the quarrel over the satellite, after saying in March that he was “deeply disappointed” by the European Commission’s move to freeze Britain out.
He said yesterday: “All the capabilities for Galileo don’t sit in France, don’t sit in Germany and various other countries; they sit in Britain.
“The only country that can make something like this work is Britain and the question they [the EU] have to ask is, can they do it without us? I would say ‘no’. Can we do it without them? I would say the answer is ‘yes’.”
Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference to mark the publication of White Flag? a book about the state of the armed forces, he was asked why the government would let the EU base assets on UK overseas territories if the nation were locked out of the project. He said: “Let’s be clear: as it develops, they’re not going to be able to use our facilities to do what I would call a rival project. We can make our project work. I don’t believe they can make their project work. I’m very happy to sit down with them and discuss how we can make a project work together, but as equals, not as a taker of rules.”
Greg Clark, the business secretary, last month described the EU’s threat to block Britain’s access to the satellite on security grounds as “insulting”.
The UK is now planning to develop a separate satellite navigation system, and the Treasury has set aside £92 million, it was reported this summer.
Britain would have a head-start on a solo project because of its expertise in the sector, and the work already completed by its companies towards Galileo, the UK Space Agency has said.
The space agency wrote to 13 British companies in May, warning that they need security authorisation to pursue any further work with the EU initiative.
Speaking more broadly about the nation’s influence overseas, Mr Williamson said the UK’s “confidence was knocked” by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and that it had become “too timid” about getting involved abroad as a result. He added that a bolder spirit had prevailed in the past year: “What we’ve been doing in Afghanistan, in terms of the uplift of troops, the strikes that we conducted in Syria earlier on this year, this is actually us rediscovering that intervention, when it is thought through, when it is properly considered, is the right thing to do”.
Questioned about his “shut up and go away” comment to Russia this spring after the novichok poisoning, he conceded that his bluntness was both a virtue and a flaw. “I’m afraid I ain’t gonna change,” he said. “It’s just what’s in the DNA of a Yorkshireman.”