Boris Johnson is expected to scale back plans for a sovereign satellite system to allow the UK to compete with the EU Galileo system once Brexit is completed. Lord Willets, a board member of the Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, suggested the Prime Minister could take the opportunity to invest in a “better” system that could win over international investors. Speaking to the Today programme, the Conservative peer said: “It looks as if what the Government is now considering doing something different, and I think better.
“It would move ahead into the new technology of small satellites in lower constellations instead of a few bigger satellites locked further up.
“And, at that point, because it’s a contrast with the existing systems, you find the Americans and others might well like to join in because it adds resilience.
“It’s a much stronger signal, it’s not subject to jamming like the old technology.”
The UK had hoped to maintain access to the European Galileo system despite Brexit but Brussels struck down the suggestion citing security concerns after Britain’s departure from the bloc.
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Asked about the need for an independent satellite system for the UK, Lord Willetts said: “We happen to have an opportunity.
“It does look as if the world is heading to these new constellations, many more smaller satellites in low-Earth orbit and it so happens one of the world’s main companies in this one web is headquartered in Shepherd’s Bush, west London.”
According to reports in the FT last week, ministers are seeking to scale down the £5 billion satellite project and have been airing the possibility of using UK satellite operator OneWeb.
The operator pledged to relocate its activities from its current headquarters in Florida to the UK if management secures the support of the British Government.
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Mr Ellwood added: “Galileo was an EU project but it was essentially a British project, it was Surrey Satellites and Airbus and now because of the silliness of the Brexit fallout, we are now building a rival system, at huge cost, which we simply can’t afford.
“Ultimately security should be above the politics of Europe.
“If you put France and Britain together, we have the military might of the rest of Europe combined.”
Mr Ellwood, asked whether he believed a UK system would amount to a vanity project, agreed, adding: “The trouble is with all this, to make these things stand, they need to be commercially viable and the market we are in is already very congested.
“I’ve asked for it to be reviewed and I’ve asked for defence to be taken out of the Brexit discussions for this exact reason.”