Big tech accountability? Read how we got here in  The Closing of the Net 

Theresa May with Jean-Claude Juncker at Brussels press conference after Brexit negotiations in 2017

Brexit means that Britain risks losing access to two vital EU satellite programmes. They deliver key communications technologies to power  Mrs May’s vision for a 4th  industrial revolution. It’s a failure to join the policy dots.  Has the government lost the signal?

Galileo and the Copernicus are leading edge programmes that deliver the benefit of satellite technology to industries  and consumers on the ground. However, Britain risks losing access to both of them from March next year. 

Galileo provides satellite navigation services. Its applications are used to support all forms of transport - road, rail, sea and air, as well as precision agriculture. It is the only satellite navigation service that is civilian-controlled and not in the hands of a military organisation.

Copernicus provides satellite-based monitoring services of the atmosphere, land, water and forests  to help environmental research. Its services can be applied by policy-makers for planning purposes, as well as development of  applications to help with agriculture.  

Between them Galileo and Copernicus include projects designed to benefit a range of industries including farming, aviation and  maritime.  Mobile phone users can get advanced location-based  services. Safety on train services  and  responses by the emergency services can be improved. Moreover, security monitoring, including border control, can be augmented.

 Both are European Union projects.  Galileo is managed by the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)  Agency.   The Agency  was first  established in 2004, and was set up in its current form under  European Union law in 2010.

The Copernicus project is managed by the European Commission. The space segment of the programme is operated by the European Space Agency, and the ground segment by the European Environment Agency and Member States.

As an EU Member, Britain has been able to participate in both  of these high tech satellite programmes, but Brexit puts that participation at risk. Under the proposed Brexit transition arrangements,  Britain may not participate in the decision-making or governance of any EU "bodies, offices and agencies", participate in any expert groups,  or  take a lead role in any EU-funded organisation. This is stated in the EU document ‘Transitional Arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement' dated 6 February 2018, Article x+2.**

Moreover,  the EU will no longer trust the UK with sensitive  facilities (see theTransitional Arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement' Article X+1 point 6**). From the EU's perspective, there is sensitvity around Galileo's encrypted Public Regulated Service (PRS).  As a consequence, a key facility near Southampton is moving to Spain.  This is the Galileo back-up  site which the UK currently hosts.  The decision to move the facility was taken by the Council of Ministers last July, and the move to Spain announced in January this year.

It is difficult to see how Britain could maintain full participation if it cannot be part of the decision-making or governance, cannot get access to encrypted services,  and cannot even attend expert groups. To remain in the programmes, Britain would have to negotiate a new agreement.

The interesting question is what this will mean for Britain's proposed post-Brexit industrial policy. Theresa May said in her speech in Davos on 25 January this year  ( as reported by Politico): “ Imagine a world in which self-driving cars radically reduce the number of deaths on our roads. Imagine a world where remote monitoring and inspection of critical infrastructure makes dangerous jobs safer. Imagine a world where we can predict and prevent the spread of diseases around the globe,” adding  “These are the kinds of advances that we could see and that we should want to see.

Well, it’s difficult to imagine such a world without high tech satellite services that provide the very data needed to develop this vision. To take a couple of examples, Galileo provides more accurate location-based services for use in narrow streets and so-called ‘urban canyons’.   Copernicus monitors solar radiation and provides health-related data on air quality. 

The loss of British  participation in Galileo and Copernicus means that British industry loses access to this type of new development. And it  will be especially felt by Britain’s satellite  and communications industries, whose engineers have been leaders in the field for many years. It would indeed seem that Mrs May and her advisers are out of signal.


**The text has been updated with more of the sources that I used in writing it, via links in the text. In particular, it has been amended to include a reference to the EU document "Transitional Arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement" that was left out when the article was first published.  This is the document which states that the UK will not be able to participate in the decision-making and governance of the bodies, offices and agencies of the European Union.  This document is linked via  the Financial Times EU plans to cut UK’s market access if Brexit transition terms broken 6 February 2018. The British government's response document is similar, and does confirm exclusion from expert groups and  from  nomination or appointments to EU Agencies. The British response has changed the language of 'decision-making and governance ' to 'voting arrangements' which is not quite the same thing and this does require further clarification.

It should also be noted that the European Space Agency (ESA)  has a different status. The ESA  is not a European Union Agency,  hence Britain could remain an ESA member in its own right.

Contact me if you would like to discuss any of the  issues raised  (Via Contact Us page or Twitter @Iptegrity).

For new Iptegrity  readers, I have been analysing EU policy for over 10 years ( see 10 years of Internet wars ), and have considerable experience of interpreting EU documents, which are sometimes quite opaque. I also have over 25 years' experience of the telecoms and technology sectors, and I have enormous respect for satellite engineers who do an amazing job.

If you liked this article, you may also like my book The Closing of the Net  available in Kindle and Paperback from only £15.99!

 If you cite this article or its contents, please attribute and Monica Horten as the author.

Photo: European Commission stock shot.

Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

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