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EU faces rebels in star wars over UK access to Galileo satellite system after Brexit

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Three of the 24 satellites which make us the EU’s Galileo navigation system (Reuters)

EU plans to block British access to crucial parts of its Galileo sat-nav system after Brexit have been criticised by influential German politicians.

The vice-chairs of two European Parliament committees have spoken out against proposals to stop the UK accessing the system’s encrypted data, which is used by the military and security services.

Christian Ehler, an MEP from Angela Merkel’s CDU party, called the UK’s participation “indispensable” and liberal MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel warned the EU risked exposing itself to “detrimental effects.”

The pair made the comments in an exchange of emails between MEPs over the future of the system which has become one of the major disputes in Brexit negotiations.

The European Space Agency launches a satellite in 2016 (Getty)

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said the bloc has no choice but to limit UK access because it “cannot share security-relevant proprietary information with countries outside the EU.”

British firms are also to be excluded from bidding for work on the project and a ground control centre, which employs 100 people, is set to be moved from the UK.

In response, the UK government has threatened to claw back the €1.4 billion its invested in the project and set up its own rival.

British negotiators also warned yesterday that exclusion from parts of Galileo would weaken post-Brexit security co-operation – something the EU wants to avoid.

MORE: UK Threatens EU on Security Cooperation Over Galileo Standoff

The leaked e-mail exchange between MEPs shows there is at least some sympathy in Brussels for British arguments on this issue.

“I perceive the continued participation of the UK in the security system of Galileo as indispensable,” wrote Mr Ehler, vice-chair of the Parliament’s sub-committee on defence and security.

“Through its partaking in the construction and the funding of Galileo the UK has acquired rights to fully be in the EU’s shared satellite system.”

“Banning the UK would, first of all, jeopardize the EU’s and the UK’s security system, secondly, it would mean another invitation for Vladimir Putin to question Europe’s defence capabilities, and thirdly, it would raise our dependence on the rather exotic security approach of the Trump administration.”

German MEP Christian Ehler (European Parliament)

There could also be “negative repercussions” for connected industries in the UK and EU, he added.

Mr Henkel, who is vice-chair of the Parliament’s industry, research and energy committee, replied: “I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the detrimental effects also on the European Union!”

The contents of their e-mails were revealed on the blog of Conservative MEP Rupert Matthews, who said they showed people on both sides of the Channel want “a pragmatic, mutually advantageous deal” over Brexit.

He wrote: “Of course, there are a minority of MEPs who cannot wait to administer a punishment beating to the UK for daring to leave, but many others are increasingly annoyed by the obstructive attitude of the EU Commission.”