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British companies may be banned from European satellite programme in Brexit row

British technology companies have been warned not to sign new deals to work on the pan-European Galileo satellite navigation as a Brexit row blows up.
Business Secretary Greg Clark has written to 13 UK businesses involved in sensitive work on the project, such as coded communications, saying they must have the Government’s sign-off to start new contracts.
At issue is an argument over Britain’s role in Galileo after the UK leaves Europe in 2019.
In January the European Commission said it would “no longer be appropriate” for Britain to be involved in “information exchanges” about Galileo after 2019, saying that the UK could be a “security threat”.
In a letter from the UK Space Agency on behalf of Mr Clark, the Secretary of State reminded the companies they have to be authorised to carry out new work on the system.
British companies may be banned from European satellite programme in Brexit row

Business Secretary Greg Clark has said Britain could leave Galileo, taking UK expertise with it it

Credit:
Getty
He added: “I regret these steps are a necessary consequence of the position taken by the European Commission.”
British expertise is key to the cryptography systems used by Galileo and there are concerns that British know-how could be lost to Europe if companies are forced to work there to remain part of the programme.
The Ministry of Defence has started preliminary work on a rival system, for fear of being shut out the sat-nav systems which the armed forces and emergency services will rely on in the future.
About ?1.2bn of UK taxpayers’ money has been invested in Galileo since work started on it in 2003, and the Government is investigating whether it can take legal action to recoup this if Britain is locked out of the programme.
British companies may be banned from European satellite programme in Brexit row

A rocket carrying the first two satellites of the Galileo system blasts off from its launchpad in 2011

Credit:
Reuters
Mr Clark said the Government “strongly disagrees with the EC’s position”. He added that continuing to work together on the project “is in our mutual interest… as part of our steadfast commitment to the continent’s security.”
The Secretary of State also warned that “excluding the UK and our unique expertise will lead to increased costs and delays”.
But he added that unless Britain got “clear assurances” that British companies would be able to take part “on an equal basis and without continued access to the necessary security-related information” that the UK could quit Galileo.
One UK space industry source said: "If Britain  can't work on the project it's not just going to harm us, but Europe as well. It will slow down the project - which is already years late - but it's also going to increase the costs. It's ironic that they are saying that Britain is a security threat as Britain is the source of much of the security in the system." 
Britain’s importance to Galileo is underlined by that fact that although the UK-funded 12pc of the budget, UK companies won 15pc of the work.
Companies working on Galileo in Britain include CGI UK, QinetiQ, and Surrey Satellite Technology. Airbus receives data transmitted from the system at its Portsmouth base, but the company has said it will move this to it European sites if is is required to because of Brexit.
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