Galileo is the European equivalent of the US’s Global Satellite Navigation System, Russia’s GLONASS or China’s BeiDou. Due to be completed by 2020 it is costing €10 billion and consists of a constellation of 30 satellite, 22 of which are already in orbit. It is designed to be accurate for any device within a metre.
Recently, however, Brussels has threatened to block the UK’s industrial participation in Galileo following Brexit.
So far, the UK has played a central role in Galileo’s development with several British companies, such as Airbus, closely involved with the project’s design. This move will mean that companies like Airbus would have to move jobs out of the UK to France and Germany to continue their involvement. The UK has already spent an estimated £1.2 billion on the project so naturally this move has caused outrage from the British government.
Exclusion Based on Security Concerns
The row centres around whether after Brexit, the UK, as a non-member-state, can still be trusted with the EU’s most sensitive security information. The EU has said it is also considering implementing a requirement that key components be made on the continent. This recent spat has stoked governmental concern over the UK’s future defence and security co-operation treaty.
UK Government Responds in Kind
In retaliation the British government is investigating ways that it can ban technology firms from transferring sensitive information to Europe. According to the The Times, the Treasury has been prompted to investigate how it can change the licences of UK based firms that specialise in satellite and encryption technology to halt the use of their intellectual property overseas.
It is also looking at blocking the Galileo system from using its overseas territories as a monitoring base in locations such as the Falklands, Ascension Island and Diego Garcia. Furthermore, it has begun a feasibility study into a rival British system, which is estimated to cost £3.7bn over ten years. Its estimated running cost is around £200 million per year, which is the same as the UK would contribute to Galileo.
A Whitehall source told The Times that: “There is concern about what this means for the future of our security partnership. The government said we were not going to make it a bargaining chip but the commission turning around and branding the UK a security threat has left us with concerns about what that means.”