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Blighty: We spent £1bn on Galileo and all we got was this lousy T-shirt
Minister confirms how much UK spunked on system it can't use
There were heated exchanges at Parliament's Defence and European Scrutiny Committee this week as members attempted to get the Minister for Defence Procurement, Stuart Andrew, to put a figure on the cost of the Galileo project.
Andrew did not have the number to hand, which prompted Mark Francois MP to splutter: "Oh come on, Stuart, this is your job!"
Admittedly, the minister has only been in the role since July 2018. But still.
The figure, when it came, was €1.15bn, or around £1bn at current rates, and reflected how much the UK has spent on the programme to date.
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The minister went on to confirm that the UK would be excluded from the project during the Brexit transition period, including UK companies being denied the opportunity to bid on contracts and, of course, the British military blocked from accessing the encrypted navigation signals.
Galileo is the EU's answer to the US GPS system, providing precision positioning services to European nations and thus removing reliance on American largesse. The first of the satellites was launched in 2005, and the constellation is expected to be complete in 2020.
The UK has been heavily involved in the design and construction of the system and, er, won't be allowed to use it unless negotiators can come to an agreement.
The EU has begun work on the basis of the UK being excluded and, the committee heard, released plans on 13 November to withdraw ground infrastructure for the satellites in the Falkland and Ascension Islands. The UK had previously warned that exclusion from the programme would mean it could deny access to the territories. The EU appears to have called its bluff.
Andrew reckoned the EU's decision was "short-sighted" and professed himself "annoyed" at the situation whereby Brit taxpayers had shovelled £1bn into the programme from which they would now be locked out.
UK firms have enjoyed some juicy contracts on the back of Galileo, but ministers were unable to confirm the income generated.
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After it was reiterated that the UK would spend the next 18 months – and £92m – pondering if it should spank as much as £5bn on a domestic system, Francois queried why Brits could not simply rely on the US GPS system instead.
The answer was that a backup was needed, which prompted Francois to colourfully question: "Isn't this a vanity project to cover the fact that we're embarrassed about the fact that they've stuck this programme right up our backside?"
He went on to highlight the stretched UK Ministry of Defence budgets, responding to the minister's inability to say where the money would come from with: "I'll give you an answer – you'll never do it."
Sir William Cash piled in, suggesting that the UK could simply knock the Galileo £1bn off the eventual divorce bill.
We look forward to seeing that line in the eventual EU withdrawal agreement. ®