As a result of Brexit, there has been an array of side-effects, including the UK being shut out of the EU’s Galileo satellite system contracts. Galileo is a multi-billion dollar satellite constellation project which intends to rival the Global Positioning System, which is controlled by the US. The aim is for it to be operational by 2020. The exclusion could see the UK paying higher costs for GPS Navigation and Vehicle Tracking.
The Galileo project was launched all the way back in 1999, and is drawing close to completion. It will eventually consist of 24 satellites, and six spare satellites. But after the shock Brexit result, the UK are now barred from access to all the highly encrypted security and information of the Galileo project, the public regulated service (PRS), as this cannot be used by the military or government. UK representatives are banned from discussions and exchanges regarding the Galileo satellite system, and the European commission are blocking the UK’s space industry from involvement in the program.
This decision has led to a large amount of outcry. The UK government is unhappy with this, and claim that a large amount of UK contributors have been an essential part of the development of the Galileo project. As an example, the UK hosts two sensor stations in the south Atlantic, and from this secure location makes contributions to Galileo’s coverage. The UK’s financial contributions to the project exceed €1 billion (£879 million), and as such they have responded that they expect this to be reimbursed.
Reactions and Negotiations
Chancellor Philip Hammond was critical of the European commission’s handling of this, and referred to their response as “unhelpful”. Hammond pointed out that he is “very conscious of the ticking clock and need to make significant progress” in regards to Brexit negotiations. Prime Minister Theresa May has also noted that she wants the UK to stay involved in the multi billion pound satellite project.
An official government paper was published on Thursday 24th May 2018, which predicts that this decision made by the EU to exclude the UK from close involvement in the project “will be to the detriment of Europe’s prosperity and security and could result in delays and additional costs to the programme.” In this paper, the government also states that “UK entities have played an integral part in designing, developing and managing Galileo to date, particularly the delivery of payloads for satellites, the ground control segment and the development of the PRS software.”
The document specifically refers to the UK’s financial contributions to Galileo in the following excerpt: “Should the UK’s future access be restricted, the UK’s past contribution to the financing of space aspects should be discussed.” The paper continues with: “The UK and EU should therefore seek an urgent resolution to the exclusion, to keep open the possibility of future UK participation in Galileo.”
Hammond has even threatened the launch of a rival satellite system. Hammond told reporters on Friday 25th May 2018 that: “We need access to a satellite system of this kind. A plan has always been to work as a core member of the Galileo project, contributing financially and technically to the project. If that proves impossible then Britain will have to go it alone, possibly with other partners outside Europe and the US, to build a third competing system. But for national security strategic reasons we need access to a system and will ensure that we get it.”
The UK hopes that Australia would be a potential partner in this endeavour if this impasse is not resolved. It is estimated that the planned domestic rival to the Galileo system would cost around £5 billion.
The EU’s Response
When European commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas was asked if the EU would repay the UK’s financial investment in the Galileo system on Thursday 24th May 2018, she responded: “Our position has always been very, very clear – crystal clear – on this. This issue is being discussed with our British partners, negotiations are ongoing.”
A senior EU official comments that the UK’s demands are “quite a big ask”. Allowing a non-member state unrestricted access to the project contravenes legal requirements that the UK themselves supported the introduction of in 2011. The official continues: “The UK would like to transform Galileo from an EU programme to a joint EU-UK programme. …There is not an issue of general distrust but the EU is a rule-based system: member states trust each other through rules.”
The EU has also stated that they “will not negotiate under menace”. But not all member states agree with the EU’s handling of the issue. Spain, France, the Netherlands and the Baltic states are a few of the members who wish for a resolution of the impasse that involves the closest possible security links with the UK, according to reports from Brussels. Negotiations are in process, and will continue over the next few weeks.