Brexit means that Britain will lose access to two vital EU satellite programmes. They deliver key communications technologies to power Theresa May’s vision for a 4th industrial revolution. The loss of British participation in Galileo and Copernicus will undoubtedly affect British industry, including the satellite and communications sector, whose engineers have been leaders in the field for many years. It’s a failure to join the policy dots.  Monica Horten (LSE Media) asks whether the government has lost the signal?

Galileo and the Copernicus are leading edge programmes that deliver the benefit of satellite technology to industries and consumers on the ground. However, Britain risks losing access to both of them from March next year. Galileo provides satellite navigation services. Its applications are used to support all forms of transport – road, rail, sea and air, as well as precision agriculture. It is the only satellite navigation service that is civilian-controlled and not in the hands of a military organisation. Copernicus provides satellite-based monitoring services of the atmosphere, land, water and forests to help environmental research. Its services can be applied by policy-makers for planning purposes, as well as development of applications to help with agriculture.

Between them, Galileo and Copernicus include projects designed to benefit a range of industries including farming, aviation and maritime. Mobile phone users can get advanced location-based services. Safety on train services and responses by the emergency services can be improved. Moreover, security monitoring, including border control, can be augmented. Both are European Union projects. Galileo is managed by the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) Agency.  The Agency was first established in 2004 and was set up in its current form under  European Union law in 2010. The Copernicus project is managed by the European Commission. The space segment of the programme is operated by the European Space Agency and the ground segment by the European Environment Agency and the Member States.

Galileo arrival at Jupiter. Image by NASA (Public Domain)

As an EU Member, Britain has been able to participate in both  of these high tech satellite programmes, but Brexit puts that participation at risk. Under the proposed Brexit transition arrangements,  Britain may not participate in the decision-making or governance of any EU “bodies, offices and agencies”, participate in any expert groups,  or  take a lead role in any EU-funded organisation. This is stated in the EU document ‘Transitional Arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement‘ dated 6 February 2018, Article x+2.**

Moreover,  the EU will no longer trust the UK with sensitive facilities (see theTransitional Arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement‘ Article X+1 point 6**). From the EU’s perspective, there is sensitivity around Galileo’s encrypted Public Regulated Service (PRS).  As a consequence, a key facility near Southampton is moving to Spain.  This is the Galileo back-up site which the UK currently hosts.  The decision to move the facility was taken by the Council of Ministers last July, and the move to Spain announced in January this year.

It is difficult to see how Britain could maintain full participation if it cannot be part of the decision-making or governance, cannot get access to encrypted services,  and cannot even attend expert groups. To remain in the programmes, Britain would have to negotiate a new agreement. The interesting question is what this will mean for Britain’s proposed post-Brexit industrial policy. Theresa May said in her speech in Davos on 25 January this year  (as reported by Politico): “ Imagine a world in which self-driving cars radically reduce the number of deaths on our roads. Imagine a world where remote monitoring and inspection of critical infrastructure makes dangerous jobs safer. Imagine a world where we can predict and prevent the spread of diseases around the globe,” adding  “These are the kinds of advances that we could see and that we should want to see.

Well, it’s difficult to imagine such a world without high tech satellite services that provide the very data needed to develop this vision. To take a couple of examples, Galileo provides more accurate location-based services for use in narrow streets and so-called ‘urban canyons’.   Copernicus monitors solar radiation and provides health-related data on air quality.

The loss of British participation in Galileo and Copernicus means that British industry loses access to this type of new development. And it will be especially felt by Britain’s satellite and communications industries, whose engineers have been leaders in the field for many years. It would indeed seem that Mrs May and her advisers are out of signal.

**The text has been updated with more of the sources that I used in writing it, via links in the text. In particular, it has been amended to include a reference to the EU document “Transitional Arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement” that was left out when the article was first published.  This is the document which states that the UK will not be able to participate in the decision-making and governance of the bodies, offices and agencies of the European Union.  This document is linked via the Financial Times EU plans to cut UK’s market access if Brexit transition terms broken (6 February 2018). The British government’s response document is similar and does confirm exclusion from expert groups and from nomination or appointments to EU Agencies. The British response has changed the language of ‘decision-making and governance ‘ to ‘voting arrangements’ which is not quite the same thing and this does require further clarification. It should also be noted that the European Space Agency (ESA) has a different status. The ESA  is not a European Union Agency,  hence Britain could remain an ESA member in its own right. 

This article also appeared on Iptegrity and it gives the views of the author, and not the position of LSE Brexit, nor of the London School of Economics. 

Dr Monica Horten is a trainer & consultant on Internet governance policy, published author and Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science.

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