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Brexit “galactic stupidity” for UK space industry

March 5, 2019

By Chris Forrester

The UK space industry is worth some €12 billion annually, and helps fund 40,000 jobs, according to a report entitled Brexit: Lost in Space,which states bluntly that these jobs are at risk if Brexit happens.

“Post Brexit, no CEO would locate a space company [in the UK]. It’s galactic scale stupidity,” says author Will Marshall.

US-based Marshall, co-founder of Planet Labs and a former NASA scientist, argues that the fallout has already begun. “In December, the UK announced its intention to pull out of Europe’s global positioning satellite project, Galileo, as a result of Brexit. Despite the UK wanting to stay in (and alone having already invested over €1.5 billion into the project), the EU wouldn’t allow it access to the secure elements once it left EU, so the UK opted out.”

“This has significant economic and security implications for the UK: it leaves it dependent on other nations systems to which it has no formal say (either US’s GPS or EU’s Galileo). Downing Street quickly retorted it would build its own. But this is pie in the sky: the costs would dwarf the entire UK space budget, all for a system redundant, and likely years behind and second tier, to that of its close allies.”

“Unfortunately, this is just the beginning,” he suggests.  “The UK space industry represents €12 billion in business and about 40,000 UK jobs, all of which are at risk with Brexit. The risks arise because space projects are complex and the UK space sector is intrinsically woven with the rest of Europe. The mainstay of UK space endeavours are through its membership of the European Space Agency (ESA). This could be the next casualty. Although ESA is formally separate from the EU, and continued membership will remain an option, in practice ESA’s agenda is increasingly being set by the EU. To be a member of ESA and not the EU will be like Norway in single market but not in the EU: accepting all the plans and rules (and payments!) but without a voice at the table.”

Marshall says that in conversations with senior officials at the UK Government during a recent trip there, it became terrifyingly clear that space is an afterthought to the larger political issues of Brexit: there is no plan to mitigate these impacts.

“In space, as in all sectors of the British economy, leaving the EU makes the UK less secure, less financially stable, and adrift. Despite all the space talk I wish politicians would come back down to Earth: Brexit is a folly of great proportions that can and should be reversed. With Brexit, the UK will be a country lost in space,” he concludes.

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