Britain intends to build its own satellite navigation system after being frozen out of the EU’s Galileo project by Brussels because of Brexit.
After months of fruitless negotiation over the space programme and after sinking £1.2 billion into the project, Theresa May said the UK would aim to build its own system instead.
The issue was cited by Sam Gyimah, the universities and science minister, as the deciding factor in his resignation on Friday.
Mr Gyimah, who has been tipped as a future Conservative leader, says the Galileo decision should act as a “clarion call”, claiming Britain’s interests “will be repeatedly and permanently hammered by the EU27 for many years to come”.
Here is everything you need to know about the project.
What is Galileo?
Galileo is Europe’s Global Navigation Satellite System, a rival to the US GPS system that will be used for defence and critical national infrastructure purposes.
It will not only support mobile phones and satnavs but also provide vital location information for the military and businesses.
The project began in 1999, with the EU aiming to create a network of 30 satellites orbiting the earth that would ensure its members were not so reliant on the US, Russian and Chinese systems.
The Armed Forces are particularly keen to access Galileo because the US currently keeps back the best GPS service for its own military.
The first operational satellites were launched in 2011 and the programme is expected to be finished in 2020.
Among the most crucial parts of the system is the Public Regulated Service (PRS), an encrypted navigation service used by government agencies, the armed forces and emergency services. Only EU member states will be allowed access to it and it is due to be completed in 2020.
Much of the PRS was developed by UK scientists and engineers.
What is the rift?
The problem is the EU is insisting that the key part of it – the PRS – can only be accessed by EU members and so UK contractors were told they would be locked out of work on the highly sensitive project after the countries leaves the bloc in March.
Mr Gyimah said in June that Brussels was putting European security at risk by insisting that the UK could only be allowed “third country” status within the programme, which would severely limit scope for co-operation.
Britain has said it wants the EU to repay the more than £1 billion it contributed to the project. It is unclear whether the UK will get back the money. Sources said negotiations continue on whether any of the UK’s financial contribution to Galileo will be returned.
“Our preference is to contribute fully to Galileo as part of a deep security partnership with the EU. By forcing through this vote, while excluding UK companies from the contracts on unfounded security grounds, the European Commission has put this at risk,” Mr Gyimah said.
“Without full, fair and open industrial involvement, Galileo doesn’t offer the UK value for money or meet our defence needs, so we would be obliged to walk away.”
UK companies have built components for Galileo and one of the project’s two Security Monitoring Centres was based Swanwick in Hampshire. The site is now being relocated to Spain.
What will the UK do instead?
On Friday, Mrs May announced Britain was giving up trying to gain access to the system for defence and critical national infrastructure purposes.
“I have been clear from the outset that the UK will remain firmly committed to Europe’s collective security after Brexit,” the prime minister said.
“But given the Commission’s decision to bar the UK from being fully involved in developing all aspects of Galileo, it is only right that we find alternatives.
“I cannot let our armed services depend on a system we cannot be sure of. That would not be in our national interest. And as a global player with world-class engineers and steadfast allies around the world, we are not short of options.”
Instead, Mrs May confirmed the UK would build its own Global Navigation Satellite System, a project that independent experts estimate will cost between to £3-£5 billion.
The UK is expected to work with the US and other “Five Eyes” partners, and Mrs May said any new system must be compatible with GPS so the two systems can cover for each other if one is subject to attack.
The plan had been suggested before. In August, Mrs May ordered officials to start work on a British satellite-navigation system. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, signed off funding amounting to as much as £100 million to “map out” plans for a post-Brexit UK satellite system
The UK Space Agency is currently leading work, backed by the Ministry of Defence, on a planned British system to provide both open and encrypted signals with the same range of commercial and security applications as GPS and Galileo.
More than 50 UK companies have expressed interest in the project and a series of contracts are being tendered.
British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies around the globe would be used to provide the necessary ground-based infrastructure to deliver worldwide coverage.
Mrs May said: “What is in our national interest is to say ‘No, you haven’t allowed us full access, so we will develop an alternative, we will look at alternative options’, we are doing that work but we will work with other international partners to do so as well.”
Decisions have yet to be taken on whether it will represent good value for money for the UK to make use of the commercial side of the Galileo project.
Recent studies suggest more than 11% of UK GDP is directly supported by satellite navigation systems, and a report warned any failure of the service could cost the economy £1 billion a day.
What has been the EU’s reaction?
In September, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, poured cold water on Britain’s plans to create a system that would rival Galileo..
“A strong united Europe will allow its member states to reach for the stars. Thanks to our Galileo programme Europe is still in the space race.
“No single member state would have been able to launch the sateillite that 400 million users round the world are benefiting from,” he said, “Without Europe there would be no Galileo.
“We respect of course the British decision to leave our Union. We regret it deeply, but we also ask the British government to understand that someone who leaves the Union cannot be in the same privileged position of the member states.”
The Five Eyes
What is it? An intelligence alliance between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and the UK
What is it for? Originally it was a Cold War arrangement designed to monitor the communications of the Soviet Union and its allies using the “Echelon” system. It has grown to monitor billions of communications across the globe, and now plays a leading role in counter-terror surveillance.
Why these five? The five members were all Cold War allies, but they also share the English language, the use of common law, and four of the five have the Queen as head of state.
Isn’t it controversial? Absolutely. Many critics worry that system has placed itself beyond proper supervision. Some have suggested that it allows member nations to circumvent domestic laws by receiving information on their own citizens from other members of the alliance.
This article was originally published at Telegraph and can be read HERE