U.K. Sees Little Sign of EU Changing ‘Insulting’ Galileo Stance

(Bloomberg) -- Business Secretary Greg Clark said he’s seen little sign of the European Union changing its “insulting’’ stance on the U.K.’s involvement in the Galileo satellite navigation program after Brexit.

The 10 billion-euro ($11.7 billion) program emerged as a surprise area of friction in the Brexit negotiations earlier this year, with the EU seeking to exclude Britain from Galileo’s most secure elements, as well as excluding British companies from bidding for contracts.

The EU attitude has been a “real disappointment,’’ Clark said Thursday in an interview in Middlesbrough, northeast England, indicating that for now, there’s no breakthrough in sight.

“The position of the European Commission hasn’t substantially varied,’’ Clark said when asked if there had been progress in the discussions. “To cite as a reason for U.K. non-participation in effect that we can’t be trusted on security grounds is deeply insulting to the British people. Of all the areas in which our commitment to supporting our neighbors is unequivocal, it’s security, and we know that over many years we have had deep cooperation that has been hugely in the interests of citizens right across Europe.’’

The EU objections came despite the U.K. playing a leading role in developing the satellite array, not least the encryption behind the program’s Public Regulated Service, which has defense and military uses. U.K. units of Airbus SE and CGI Group Inc. have carried out extensive work on the Galileo since its inception.

New Program

In the absence of any sign of the bloc changing its position on Galileo, the U.K. has said it’s looking at developing its own satellite navigation system, designed as an equivalent to the U.S. Global Positioning System, or GPS. Prime Minister Theresa May last month announced a 92 million-pound, 18-month program to design and develop Britain’s own satellite navigation system.

At the same time, the government published analysis showing that a sustained disruption to navigation systems would cost the British economy 1 billion pounds a day because of its importance to commercial, military and other critical applications. The systems help guide ships, aircraft, missiles and passenger cars.

The U.K. earlier this month published details of the implications for the space industry if Britain tumbles out of the EU on the scheduled Brexit day of March 29 without a deal. As well as reiterating the plan for Britain to develop its own system, it said that it wouldn’t be possible for businesses and organizations which currently host ground infrastructure for Galileo and other European space programs to continue to do so.

Clark said he still hopes that in the context of the overall Brexit negotiations, an agreement will be reached that enables Britain to retain access to the secure elements of Galileo.

“It is not in the interests of Europe for that line to be taken,’’ he said. “I hope that if we reach an agreement, it will also have implications for Galileo.’’

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.