Britain has played a key role in the development of Europe’s satellite navigation system. Brexit should not be an excuse for ending this vital security cooperation

The European Union’s Galileo network of satellites is the latest in a series of global satellite navigation systems providing precision data from space. America has had one since 1978, in the shape of the familiar GPS system. Russia has had one since 1982, and China since 2000. Galileo’s satellites have been circulating overhead since 2011 and the network is scheduled to be fully functional by 2020. Britain has been deeply involved in Galileo since the start, providing 12% of the overall costs, currently estimated at €10bn, and receiving about 15% of the work on the project. Now Britain’s participation is at risk.

Brexit is the cause of this, but for once Britain is not the only guilty party. The European commission and member states must share the blame for what is developing into an expensive squabble with very disturbing implications for post-Brexit relationships. The immediate argument is about Britain’s possible exclusion from the next phase of Galileo-related contracts. Already the Galileo back-up centre has been moved from Hampshire to Spain. Much more damagingly, the EU is proposing the UK’s long-term exclusion from the “public regulated service” part of the network. This is an encrypted service for the police, security and emergency services of EU member states. Britain has been deeply involved in its development and British agencies are anxious to participate in it when it is operational. Since January, however, the commission has argued that Britain should be excluded because the system’s integrity would be compromised if it were accessible to a non-EU state.

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