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Battle over Brexit may spread to space

By Earle Gale in London | China Daily | Updated: 2018-05-17 09:36

EU threatens to block UK from Galileo satellite navigation system

The United Kingdom's pending exit from the European Union will create upheaval in Britain and Europe, and consequences that could reach into space.

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that the UK and EU are embroiled in a row about Britain's post-Brexit access to the Galileo satellite navigation system, with the EU threatening to block access and the UK responding by suggesting it may build a satellite system of its own.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said the UK will walk away from the Galileo project when it leaves the bloc on March 29, 2019, and will have to renegotiate lower-level access at some future point.

"No decision has been already taken for the future cooperation between the UK and Galileo," he told reporters in Brussels. "Obviously, we will have cooperation between the UK and Galileo, obviously, as we have for (non-EU members) the United States or Norway."

Such access would not extend to access to secure information, and the UK would not be allowed to participate in the ongoing development of the system.

Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign affairs chief, said "decisions have consequences", noting Britain decided to leave the bloc and will therefore walk away from not only Galileo but 750 other international agreements.

The British government responded by saying the threat was a Brexit negotiating ploy. And London issued a threat of its own, saying it might block the transfer of Galileo knowledge from British companies if it is excluded, and noting it could build a satellite system of its own.

Sam Gyimah, Britain's science minister, told the BBC "the EU is playing hardball with us".

London 'has a right'

He insisted the UK has a right to use and improve the network.

"We have helped to develop the Galileo system," he told the broadcaster. "We want to be part of the secure elements of the system and we want UK industry to be able to bid for contracts on a fair basis."

A spokesperson for the UK Space Agency confirmed it had written to 13 companies that work in the sector, telling them they need security authorization to engage in future contracts that are part of the Galileo sat-nav system.

"This is a necessary consequence of the European Commission's position to exclude UK industry from the project on the suggestion of security concerns, which the UK government strongly disagrees with," the spokesperson said.

"The UK Space Agency is leading the work to develop options for a British alternative to Galileo, to guarantee our satellite positioning, navigation and timing needs are met in the future."

The Financial Times said British companies could delay the date when the Galileo system becomes fully operational by as much as three years. And it said the move could make the system, which is likely on current estimates to cost 9 billion euros ($11 billion), significantly more expensive.

When finished, the Galileo satellite system will comprise 24 working satellites and six backup orbiting satellites.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and the heads of the other 27 EU members will attend a summit on June 28 and June 29 in an attempt to thrash out more details of the post-Brexit relationship between Britain and the EU.

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