Future Britain – Government decision on successor for GPS now needed

The EU ‘Galileo’ satellite navigation system has gone ‘live’, giving Europe its own highly accurate and state-of-the-art replacement for GPS, just as Britain chose to walk away from the project on 31 December 2020 – despite being a major funding and scientific contributor to Galileo since it began in 2003.

The USA originally launched ‘GPS’ over 40 years ago, and it is nearing the end of its technological life.  GPS was designed for military use.  The technology was, however, later ‘opened’ up to other nations and commercial use in the 1990s.  The US Government has always ‘reserved the right’ to deliberately ‘degrade accuracy’ at any time – and it did so during the Gulf War.

Europe does not want to be hostage to GPS successor – leading to it commissioning ‘Galileo’.  Under the control of the European Space Agency, Galileo is intended primarily for ‘civilian’ use.  The ‘base’ system – accurate to within a metre – is freely available and receivers are already integrated into latest generation of sat-navs and smartphones.  The ‘high accuracy system’ – accurate to within a centimetre – was initially to be a chargeable, but an EU decision in 2018 made this, too a free service – although the higher specifications call for specialist and much more expensive receivers.

As a “third country”, UK companies can no longer be involved, as they were until the end of December.  Galileo is regarded by the Union as a ‘security program’ – and only firms from the 27 member states can take on ‘sensitive’ work – such as payload integration.

The last Galileo payloads produced by a British company – Guildford-based SSTL – left its Surrey factory at the end of November.  They were taken to ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands – where ‘security elements’ may not be handled by British workers – for installation.

These payloads are the “brains” of the spacecraft and generate the signals the Galileo network sends down to Earth.

ESA Navigation Director, Paul Verhoef, speaking on the BBC: “There may be small exceptions for certain components that come out of the UK which we can’t get anywhere else.  But this is what it is. This is the political reality of the day.”

Having given notice to the EU in 2018 that UK cooperation would end with Brexit, the Government announced an 18-month programme led by the ‘UK Space Agency’ to develop a UK version of a “conventional Global Navigation Satellite System”.  The stated aim is: “to meet UK security requirements and support the UK’s sovereign space and cryptography sectors.”  The UK GNSS Programme was, however, closed down on 30 September 2020.

Work completed before the closure had, according to Government press statement: “developed cutting edge British expertise in areas such as spacecraft and antenna design, satellite and ground control systems, systems engineering and simulation, which have wider applications across the space sector – in addition to supporting specialist UK jobs and industrial GNSS capability.”

If British citizens, business and military are to migrate from the aging GPS system, the UK Government must rapidly find another – possibly ‘home-grown’ – alternative now we are no longer party to the “ultra-precise Positioning, Navigation and Timing services offered by Galileo”.  Options include, according to Business Secretary, Alok Sharma MP: “considering low orbiting satellites that could deliver considerable benefits to people and businesses right across the UK, while potentially reducing our dependency on foreign satellite systems.”

British companies previously involved in Galileo are now left ‘hoping’ that a concrete proposal comes forward soon.  Otherwise, the nation will lose all of the knowledge, expertise and skills built up over two decades.

Galileo capabilities at time of UK leaving the program on 31 December 2020

  • Technology:  GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System);
  • Satellites in-orbit: 30 ‘spacecraft’ of which 24 are fully ‘in service’ – and 6 are ‘spares’;
  • Orbit: 23,222 km;
  • Satellite lifetime: 12 years;
  • Satellite mass: 675 kg;
  • Satellite body dimensions: 2.7 × 1.2 × 1.1 metre;
  • Span of solar arrays: 18.7 metre;
  • Power of solar arrays: 1.5 kW (end of life)


Meanwhile, The UK and EU have ‘agreed in principle’ to continue cooperating on the EU’s other big space project – ‘Copernicus’.  This operates a constellation of “Sentinel” orbital satellites that monitor the Globe – mapping everything from the damage caused by earthquakes to tracing air pollution.

The UK will be expected to contribute around £100m pa over seven years giving it access to Copernicus services – and allowing UK companies to ‘bid’ for industrial work.

An ESA press release welcomes potential UK participation from both a technological and funding perspective.  The program presently has a €2bn gap if it is to fulfil all its objectives by 2027 – which include launching six new satellite systems.

Norway and Switzerland may also join Copernicus with “third country” status.


Government to explore new ways of delivering ‘sat nav’ for the UK – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Small Satellite supplier | Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd | SSTL | SSTL

Galileo (satellite navigation) – Wikipedia


Photo:  SSTL Guildford

Global Britain: Future ambitions and strategy to be set by Parliament


In the first session of 2021 – and the first since Brexit – the House of Commons will set the strategy for achieving the UK’s aspirations and goals.

Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, described the Government’s vision of a “truly global Britain” as having three ‘pillars’:

  • “to prove that we are the best possible allies, partners and friends with our European neighbours;”
  • “the UK’s role as an energetic champion of free and open trade;” and
  • “the UK as an even stronger force for good in the world.”

The Parliamentary library briefing for MPs, ahead of the debate adds that the ‘Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’ was established in September 2020 with the aim of “focusing the UK’s soft power and use of development aid.”  Unfortunately, this was immediately undermined by the Chancellor’s ‘Autumn Spending Review’ – in which the Government announced a big reduction in the ‘overseas aid budget’ – a core spending commitment for the betterment of the World that had been respected by successive Governments for over the last several decades.

Other issues identified in the briefing that MPs will have to take into account are:

  • the UK’s relationship with the United States under a new President;
  • ongoing tensions with China over Hong Kong are two obvious topics;
  • the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on international relations – and on the UK’s future financial commitments;
  • a shift in the international order – marked by intensifying great power competition and a shift in the world’s economic centre of gravity towards Asia;
  • the increasingly tangible effects of climate change;
  • an increasingly complex global economic context; and
  • increasing instability and challenges to global governance.

Establishing the goals as an independent sovereign state – and then demonstrating leadership by committing and implementing the strategy are key to establishing credibility.  The UK holds the Presidency of the G7 this year – the first time since 2013.  Glasgow will host the UN climate change conference COP26 in November.


The Political Declaration (PD) on the future UK-EU relationship, agreed by the UK and EU alongside the Withdrawal Agreement in October 2019, indicated that a future relations agreement would cover co-operation in ‘foreign policy and defence’.  However, the present UK Government decided that ‘foreign policy and defence’ does not require a treaty framework – excluded it from negotiations and the ‘Trade and Co-operation Agreement’, announced on 24 December 2020, did not make any such explicit provision.

There are a number of ‘Common Provisions’ between the EU and the UK with an international dimension:

  • the principles of democracy, the rule and law and respect for human rights (including respects for various international human rights’ instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights);
  • the fight against climate change, and commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change in particular;
  • countering proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
  • implementing obligations to counter the illicit trade in conventional weapons;
  • co-operation to combat acts of terrorism in accordance with international law; and
  • global co-operation on issues of shared economic, environmental and social interest, including the two parties endeavouring to co-operate on global issues and to co-ordinate positions in multilateral organisations including the United Nations, the G7, G20, OECD, IMF, World Bank and WTO.

Government Vision

There is no clear view from the Government, now that Brexit has happened, as to what ambitions and targets the nation should set for its future as a ‘Global’ player.

The Parliamentary briefing for MPs lists and quotes from speeches from the Prime Minister, and others, when the phrase ‘Global Britain’ has been used in recent months.  All are short on detail, any sense of direction or strategy, and set no quantifiable goals or targets.

There are links to newspaper and academic articles that implore MP’s to take action quickly or risk drifting along – a situation that means the country suffers all the costs and disadvantages from leaving the EU ‘single market’ and ‘customs union’ – with none of the benefits that were claimed by the ‘Leavers’ as a Brexit dividend.

The latest Government forecast anticipates an overall reduction of 4.4% per annum in economic activity and GDP compared to remaining a full member of the EU.

The BBC ‘fact check’ on the four claims so far made by the Prime Minister as being possible “only because we have taken back control of our sovereignty” came back as ‘untrue’.  Each could have been implemented whilst an EU member state – proven by the fact that other EU nations have done just that.

  • “They’ve already got substantial amounts of money coming back into this country, as a result of leaving the EU.”  In fact the Treasury has re-calibrated the ‘Brexit settlement costs’ and the UK will pay net £33.4 billion to the EU.
  • “One of the first things we’ve done on day one is get rid of pulse trawling.”  France and Belgium had already outlawed the practice within their territorial waters.
  • “We will be able to ban these huge hoover trawlers that come in and hoover everything off the bottom of the sea.”  Note that Johnson is thought to be referring to ‘super trawlers’ – “hoover trawlers” isn’t a widely recognised term.   The UK Marine Management Organisation has already granted temporary licences to at least seven super trawlers – six of which are registered in the EU – to continue fishing in UK waters beyond 31 December 2020.
  • “One of the things you can do is have free ports.”  In fact, there are more than 80 ‘free ports’ operational across the EU.  The UK had a number until 2012 when it elected to close them.


During the 2 hour discussion led by Secretary of State, Lizz Truss, nothing new with regard to actions or achievements with respect to Global Britain.  Truss in summarising her speech:  “At this tough time, we need to embrace our future as a confident, optimistic and outward-looking global Britain,
delivering jobs and prosperity at home while helping lead the fight for free and fair trade abroad.”



MP’s Pre-debate briefing for 11 January 2021:  Global Britain

Brexit Eve: Government needs to move quickly if UK is to capitalise on Sovereignty – Europartnership

Brexit: Boris Johnson’s claims about its benefits fact-checked – BBC News

e-Guide – “UK – EU: Doing Business in the Post-Transition World that began on 1 January 2021”

Our downloadable e-Guide – UK – EU: Doing Business in the Post-Transition World that began on 1 January 2021 has now been updated to incorporate the UK-EU Trade Agreement that underpins the ‘EU (Future Relationship) Act’.

There is a summary of the key elements from the 1255 page ‘Trade Agreement’ – along with commentary and pointers to Post-Brexit changes that business and citizens all need to make.

There are sections on the Northern Ireland Protocol, Gibraltar, the latest post-Brexit economic forecasts, and the £33.4 billion cash ‘settlement’ that the UK has agreed to pay to the EU.

The guide aims to help business quickly check or identify the changes with greatest impact on them – so they can plan and implement a rapid response.


Northern Ireland ‘Brexit Protocol’ now fully implemented

The rules agreed by an EU-UK ‘Joint Committee’ on how goods will move between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – including how they can avoid tariffs – came into effect at 23:00 GMT on 31 December 2020.

The parties have also agreed some ‘temporary grace periods’ for goods such as Agri-food and medicines – in order to “give Northern Ireland businesses time to prepare for the new rules and checks”.

There were some immediate issues on 1 January 2021 at Holyhead where a number of freight vehicles were refused passage to the Province for non-compliance with the new customs regulations and documentation.

The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (the Protocol) is part of the Withdrawal Act that has international Treaty status.  It sets out the relationship Northern Ireland will have with the EU – and Province’s relationship with ‘Great Britain’, that is, the rest of the UK.

The principal purpose of the Protocol is to maintain an open border that currently exists between Ireland and Northern Ireland – with unfettered movement of goods and people on the island of Ireland.  This means that Northern Ireland will follow:

  • the EU’s ‘customs union’ code for bringing goods in and out of the EU; and
  • many EU ‘single market’ rules for goods.

Great Britain, meanwhile, left both the EU ‘single market’ and the EU ‘customs union’ on 31 December 2020 – and is free to set its own custom and regulatory rules.

Key to the implementing the Protocol is the introduction of a new regime of checks and controls for goods moving both from Great Britain to Northern Ireland – and, vice versa, from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

In May 2020, the UK Government sent a ‘command paper’ to the Joint Committee requesting some flexibility on implementing the Protocol:

  • “Not requiring NI business complete export and exit summary declarations when sending goods to Great Britain; and
  • Decreasing the frequency and complexity of checks on Agri-food moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.”

When these were not agreed to by the EU, the UK decided to introduce two pieces of legislation that would “allow it unilaterally deal with the areas of concern it raised in the Command Paper.”

In September 2020: The ‘UK Internal Market Bill’ would have granted the Government powers to unilaterally decide to waive exit declarations for NI firms and reinterpret the Protocol’s State Aid rules.  It was openly acknowledged by the Government that this “would break the UK’s legal obligations under WA and international law.”

In December 2020: The ‘Taxation (Post-transition period) Bill’ aiming to empower Ministers NOT to collect tariffs on “at risk” goods if agreement could not be reached in the Joint Committee.  ‘At Risk’ goods are those moved between Northern Ireland – but which subsequently end up in Southern Ireland.

The EU objected to these laws in the strongest terms, and the House of Lords repeatedly stripped out parts of the Bills that related to the Protocol, with the Government continuing to reinsert them.  Michael Gove, on behalf of the the UK Government, conceded the principle to the EU in Brussels on 17 December 2020 – and the Government removed the offending clauses from the Bills.  In so doing the UK removed a major obstacle to the EU concluding both the ‘Northern Ireland Protocol’ and the ‘EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement’.

A Joint Committee protocol which was duly implemented on 31 December.  It would have applied whether or not the UK concluded a Brexit trade agreement with the EU.  It covers:

  • Definitions of “At risk goods”;
  • Agricultural subsidies – set at £382.2 million per annum; and
  • Presence of EU representatives in the Province – e.g. the EU Customs Declaration Service.

There remain “areas where the UK sought easing and reinterpretations of EU rules under the Protocol”.  Unilateral declarations have been used here instead.  Whilst not legally binding, they aim to aid ‘understanding’ on how the UK aims to interpret Treaties.  They cover:

  • Declarations on export declarations.  HMRC will, instead, collect “equivalent” information from sources such as shipping manifests.  It is not clear to what extent this will decrease administrative burdens for firms compared to having to fill out the EU’s customs declarations;
  • Declarations on agri-food products.  Supermarkets and their suppliers bringing agri-food products into Northern Ireland, have been given a three-month grace period before they must comply with the EU’s full Sanitary & Phytosanitary (SPS) regime;
  • Declarations on chilled meats.  Supermarkets will benefit from a six-month grace period before having to comply with EU SPS rules for bringing in certain types of chilled meats, such as sausages, from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.  These products must clear through Border Inspection Posts, have official certificates from UK authorities – and carry a label saying, “these products from the United Kingdom may not be sold outside Northern Ireland”; and
  • Declarations on human & veterinary medicines.  Northern Ireland has a year-long grace period for implementing in full the EU’s rules on testing and selling human and veterinary medicines.

For its part, the EU made a Unilateral Declaration clarifying its position regarding ‘State Aid’.  As the ‘Court of Justice of the European Union’ is the body with ultimate jurisdiction over EU State Aid matters, it not clear how this could be applied.


Joint Committee decisions on the Northern Ireland Protocol – House of Commons Library (parliament.uk)

UK payment to the EU as a ‘Brexit settlement’ confirmed at £33.4bn

A Post-Brexit briefing to MPs from the Office of National Statistics confirms the cost of Brexit payable as a ‘cash settlement’ to the EU at £33.4 billion.

The basis and principles of the settlement were agreed during withdrawal negotiations and form part of the ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ – a legally binding Treaty that sets out the negotiated terms of the UK’s departure from the EU.

There are four elements to the settlement:

  1. The UK left the ‘political’ union in January 2020.  However, during the 11-month ‘transition period’ that ended on 31 December, the UK continued to pay into the EU budget ‘almost as if it were a Member State’.  In return, it received funding drawn from EU programmes – such as ‘structural funds’ and ‘farming subsidies’ – as if it were a Member State.
  2. EU annual budgets commit to future spending without member states making cash payments up front.  Before leaving the bloc in January 2020, the UK had ‘signed up’ to a number of commitments. They agreed to honour committed payments when they become due.  In return, the UK recipients will receive funding on where commitments were made to them by the EU.
  3. The UK will share the ‘financing of some EU liabilities as at the end of 2020’ – and ‘any materialising contingent liabilities.’  It will receive back a share of some assets.  The pension fund of EU staff is likely to be the most significant of these liabilities.  The most significant item likely to be returned to the UK is the capital it paid into the European Investment Bank.
  4. The UK has agreed to continue contributions to the EU’s main overseas aid programme – the European Development Fund – until the current programme ends.  This programme is funded directly by Member States, rather than through the EU budget.  The UK’s contribution counts towards its commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid.

Some uncertainties remain, for instance the cost of the settlement in sterling is dependent on the £-€ exchange rate.  The lower the pound falls, the more it costs in sterling to buy the euro needed.

The ONS has prepared a detailed spreadsheet – available online – that lists all the elements and calculations.

The £33.4 billion estimate comprises:

£   8.5 billion:        Net contribution through the ‘transition period’ to 31 December 2020

£ 19.8 billion:        Net sum ‘commitments’ to EU programmes

£   5.1 billion:         Net sum of future non-programme liabilities

 The bulk of the payments will be made to programmes running within the present EU budget cycle – that is, by 2025.  The final liability ends on the retirement of the youngest EU employee in the current pension scheme – and that could be as far away as 2065!



Future of Gibraltar settled on eve of Brexit

In the final hours before Brexit, Spain and Britain concluded an Agreement to avoid a ‘hard’ border between Gibraltar and Spain.

The deal was announced by Spanish Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya – and later confirmed by the UK Foreign Office on 31 December 2020.

Citizens of Gibraltar – a  British Overseas Territory – had voted 96% to ‘remain’ in the EU in the 2016 referendum.  The future of the territory had been addressed in some detail in the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement – but was not included in the scope of the Brexit trade negotiations.  Instead, the EU had requested that UK and Spain negotiate a bi-lateral agreement on a ‘political framework to form the basis of a separate treaty between the UK and the EU regarding Gibraltar’.

Now – under arrangements broadly similar to Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland – Gibraltar will join the EU’s ‘Schengen’ zone – and will follow other EU single market and customs union rules for free movement of goods and services.  The ‘Rock’ is a centre for financial activity and a conduit for financial services, with many Gibraltarians and EU citizens employed in the sector.  About 15,000 Spanish workers travel there to work every day.

Pending the drafting and signing of the formal Treaty, the border will be open – allowing unfettered travel between mainland Spain and Gibraltar.

Without agreement, sales and provision of goods and services would have been hampered by the shift from ‘passporting’ to the ‘equivalence’ – as has happened to UK businesses and institutions.  Border controls would have made daily travel impossible – and the 90 in every 180 days limit on citizens would have rendered employment impractical leading to potentially thousands of job losses.

Commenting on the agreement, Ms González Laya: “the fence is removed, Schengen is applied to Gibraltar… it allows for the lifting of controls between Gibraltar and Spain.”

The EU will send ‘Frontex’ border guards to facilitate free movement to and from Gibraltar for the next four years.

Constitutionally, Gibraltarians are British citizens.  They elect their own representatives to the territory’s ‘House of Assembly’ – whilst the Queen appoints a ‘Governor’.

Home to a British military garrison and naval base, Gibraltar is self-governing in all areas apart from defence and foreign policy.

As a member of Schengen, border guards will be now required to protect the zone’s ‘external border’ – at Gibraltar’s airport and seaport.  Gibraltar joins 22 other EU states in the passport-free Schengen zone along with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Gibraltar businesses must continue to comply with EU fair competition rules in areas such as financial policy, the environment and the labour market.  For all practical purposes, they simply continue meeting the regulatory standards under which they have operated whilst the UK was a member state.

UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab MP on reaching the Agreement with Spain said: “We will now send this to the European Commission, in order to initiate negotiations on the formal treaty.  In the meantime, all sides are committed to mitigating the effects of the end of the Transition Period on Gibraltar, and in particular ensure border fluidity, which is clearly in the best interests of the people living on both sides.”

On the previous day, 30 December 2020, addressing House of Commons during the Brexit debate, Conservative MP, Bob Neill had reminded Parliament that the UK had a “political and moral obligation” to secure a post-Brexit deal for Gibraltar.  He said: “We gave a clear undertaking to the people of Gibraltar, who although they voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union are equally determined to remain part of the British family, that we would not leave them behind and would not leave the European Union without securing a deal for them too.”

Although it came – literally – ‘late in the day’, we welcome the continuity for Gibraltarians and Spanish co-workers in the territory.  Anything less would have been a travesty of justice and democracy.


UK-Gibraltar-Spain agreement: statement from the Foreign Secretary – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)