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Brexit: Minister resigns over Theresa May's 'naive' deal

Sam Gyimah

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Mr Gyimah said he would be voting against Mrs May’s Brexit deal

A UK minister has resigned saying a row over involvement in the EU’s Galileo satellite-navigation system exposes Theresa May’s Brexit deal as “naive”.

The UK had wanted to stay part of Galileo after Brexit, but the EU said it would be banned from the extra-secure elements of the programme.

Mrs May confirmed on Friday that the UK was pulling out of the project.

Science minister Sam Gyimah said the row was “a clarion call” and that any deal with Brussels would be “EU first”.

The UK’s interests “will be repeatedly and permanently hammered by the EU27 for many years to come”, he added in a Facebook post setting out his reasons for resigning.

Mr Gyimah, who is the 10th minister to resign from the government since Mrs May set out her original proposals for leaving the EU at Chequers in July, also said he would be voting against the deal she had eventually negotiated with Brussels.

However, prominent Brexiteer and cabinet minister Michael Gove has defended Mrs May’s plan, writing in the Daily Mail that leaving the EU is under “great threat” if the deal is rejected by MPs.

Security interests

Galileo is the EU’s upcoming version of the US’s GPS, which is used by millions of people around the world, and will be used by EU governments, citizens, military and industry.

Brussels had said that, as a result of Brexit, the UK would not be allowed immediate access to part of the system intended for use by government agencies, the armed forces and emergency responders once it came online in 2020.

But the UK, which has invested €1.4bn in the project, said access was vital to its military and security interests.

Mrs May has now said the British army will not use Galileo and the UK will instead explore options to build its own satellite-navigation system – having already set aside £92m to look at how it can be done.

“I cannot let our armed services depend on a system we cannot be sure of,” Mrs May said. “That would not be in our national interest.”

Will more Remainers voice their fears?

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EPA

By Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor

As Theresa May was sitting down to at a glittering evening with her fellow world leaders at the G20, news broke that Sam Gyimah had just become the latest minister to quit over Brexit.

He had a specific reason to leave. But it is his overall verdict on Mrs May’s Brexit compromise that will really hurt.

There is some comfort overnight for Mrs May from Michael Gove, who as one of the leading voices in the Leave campaign is, belatedly perhaps, urging his Brexiteer colleagues to get onboard.

But this latest resignation is another sign of how hard it will be for the prime minister to pass the vote that could define her future.

Read more from Laura here

Mr Gyimah, who voted for Remain in the referendum, said it was the right decision for Mrs May to leave the Galileo project, saying the negotiations had been “stacked against us from the very beginning”.

But the MP for East Surrey said it was “only a foretaste of what’s to come” if the PM’s deal was voted through.

Image copyright
European Space Agency

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The European Union has put together Galileo as its own network of satellites

“Having surrendered our voice, our vote and our veto, we will have to rely on the ‘best endeavours’ of the EU to strike a final agreement that works in our national interest,” he said.

“As minister with the responsibility for space technology I have seen first-hand the EU stack the deck against us time and time again, even while the ink was drying on the transition deal.

“Galileo is a clarion call that it will be ‘EU first’, and to think otherwise – whether you are a Leaver or Remainer – is at best incredibly naive.”

‘Matter of compromise’

Culture secretary Jeremy Wright said he was “very sad” to see Mr Gyimah leave the government and that he had been “a very good minister”.

“All of my colleagues are going to have to make their own judgment about what they think about this deal,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The negotiation we have had with the European Union was always going to be a matter of compromise for both sides,” he said. “Neither of us was going to get everything we wanted and that’s what’s happened, and the government has never pretended otherwise.”

He said that Mrs May’s deal should not be compared with an idealised version of Brexit.

Mr Wright said: “You have to compare it with what the realistic alternatives are, and they are essentially, either we leave with no deal – which would have serious economic consequences – or we say to the British public, ‘I’m sorry you got it wrong, you are going to have to do it again’ – which I think would have serious democratic consequences.”

‘Falling apart’

Former Tory cabinet minister and campaigner for another referendum, Justine Greening, said Mr Gyimah was a “highly respected and capable minister” and praised him for not ruling out a second vote.

And the Lib Dem’s education spokeswoman, Layla Moran, said Mr Gyimah’s exit showed the government was “falling apart”, and that he had “seen at close quarters the devastating effect this botched Brexit will have on these important sectors”.

In his Daily Mail article, Environment Secretary Mr Gove admitted the withdrawal agreement was not “perfect”.

But he stuck by the prime minister, saying it “delivers in crucial ways which honour the vote to leave”.

“Does it deliver 100% of what I wanted? No,” he added. “But then we didn’t win 100% of the vote on 23 June 2016.

“In politics, as in life, you can’t always get everything that you want.”

What is Galileo?

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European Space Agency

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Galileo satellites are now launching on Europe’s premier rocket, the Ariane 5

Many people’s sat-navs and mobile location services currently run on a US military-based system called GPS – global positioning system – which uses satellites to pinpoint our locations. China and Russia also have satellite-navigation positioning systems.

In 1999, the European Union embarked on a plan to put together its own network of satellites, called Galileo, so it was not reliant on the US, Russian and Chinese systems.

The first satellites were put into orbit in 2013 and it is planned to be fully operational in 2020 with 30 satellites orbiting earth.

UK companies have built components for Galileo and one of the project’s two Galileo Security Monitoring Centres was based in the UK, in Swanwick. The site is now being relocated to Spain.

The government said there should be no noticeable impact for the public from withdrawing from the project, as devices that already use Galileo, such as smartphones, will carry on doing so.

It says UK industry has earned about €1.15bn from the project but, when the BBC asked if any more money would be given back, a spokesman said the project was “part of the withdrawal agreement” and the UK had reached “a fair financial settlement with the EU”.


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