18 January 2018
Britain has suffered another Brexit blow after the EU decided to relocate a key satellite monitoring centre from the UK to Spain.
The UK won the contract in 2010 to provide the backup monitoring centre for the Galileo satellite navigation system, which was launched by the EU in late 2016 and will eventually involve 30 satellites.
But after a competitive tender involving six countries, commission officials have now selected Madrid as the new base for the Galileo Security Surveillance Centre to ensure the complete satnav infrastructure remains in an EU country.
“Today the committee of the member states’ representatives met and we can confirm that the committee voted in favour, by a large majority, of our commission proposal to relocate the centre to Spain,” a spokesperson for the European commission told reporters in Brussels. The decision is expected to be adopted formally next Wednesday.
Galileo went live last year after 17 years in gestation and is designed to provide highly accurate global positioning information for phones, cars, maritime, air, rail and emergency services.
The Spanish government hopes the centre, which will cost about £4m to build, will support up to 100 direct jobs.
The move to Madrid has been made because of legal concerns over the security of Galileo being partly controlled in a non-EU country.
Britain will stay a participant in Galileo, but non-EU member countries are excluded from participating in security aspects.
“Given the overriding importance for the Galileo programme of maintaining the business continuity of the backup site, it is necessary that the UK backup site … is transferred to a location in the EU27,” the EC spokesperson said.
It it the third loss of a key EU contract in Britain. Last November the EU announced that the London-based European Medicines Agency would be moving to Amsterdam with the loss of about 1,000 jobs, and that the European Banking Authority would be moving to Paris.
The security monitoring centre in Swanwick near Southampton was due to become fully operational this year, to mirror the primary security system in France. It was designed to detect accidental or deliberate events that could disrupt the service or even turn it off.
Galileo, when fully completed in 2020, will be a network of 24 operational satellites plus six in-orbit spares orbiting the Earth to provide an advanced version of GPS. It was developed over almost 20 years to ensure the EU was not dependent on the service operated by the US which has in the past been prioritised for military use.
Unlike the US service, Galileo is not controlled by the military and is billed as always being available.
It can provide accurate location services on smart phones and car systems, a major advance in cities where signals can be blocked by tall buildings.
The loss of the contract will be seen in the wider context of Britain’s perceived weakened position in the science sector across the EU.
Last year UK aerospace firms told a parliamentary select committee that they were being excluded from bidding for contracts because of Brexit.
The aircraft manufacturer Airbus warned that other countries were
“knocking at the door” to take business from the UK amid the uncertainty
caused by Brexit.