Spexit: UK General Election 2017, Brexit and the UK Space Sector

Space wasn’t on the agenda during the general election (not a surprise really) and even science and technology didn’t get much of a look in. However, Labour did promise to spend more on general R&D and to seek to retain access to EU Science programmes such as Horizon 2020. Labour also pledged to remain members of Erasmus and EURATOM, which indicates considerably less hostility to all things ‘European’ than the Conservatives. Of course, Labour didn’t win the general election (although they did far better than initially expected), but the Conservatives, Theresa May specifically, have certainly been dealt a blow. May is currently pledging to remain Prime Minister, and while there are probably the votes to allow the Conservatives to remain the party of government, it is difficult to see how May remains Prime Minister with any credibility. She made this a referendum on herself and she lost even if her party didn’t.[1]

The only thing that we know for certain is that there is going to be more instability and uncertainty. Even if May stays on as Prime Minister she may feel forced to moderate her Brexit stance, there has already been some talk this morning of reconsidering the position regarding ‘Single Market’ membership, which would have implications for freedom of movement. Alternatively, a weakened May, reliant on the pro-Brexit, Northern Irish, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) might have to embrace an even ‘harder’ Brexit than she had before in order to stave off threats from the likes of Davis and Boris Johnson. And of course, as in 1974, we may have a second general election…

Whatever happens, the UK space sector (and UK industry more broadly) needs to get more vocal about what is needed from the Brexit negotiations. Now is the time to be doing this, the government will have to reconsider its Brexit stance, even if only as part of whatever agreement is reached between the Conservatives and the DUP. Fortunately, the UK space industry trade association, UK Space, have already begun work on this (see image below.) However, Brexit is already having an impact on the UK space sector[2], and more chaos and uncertainty isn’t going to help matters (though the battering the pound has taken against the dollar and euro might do…)

One final note, I expect the UK Spaceflight Bill will be put on the back burner for some time, and of course we’ll have to wait to see who the new minister is and who constitutes the new Science and Technology Select Committee (personally think Jo Johnson has been doing a pretty good job, so would be happy for him to stay put.)


[1]Results at 1000 BST are CON 317, LAB 261, 326 needed for majority (DUP have 10 for CON/DUP 327)

[2]Peggy Hollinger, ‘Space Chief Urges UK Firms to set up EU Subsidiaries’ Financial Times 31 May 2017 https://www.ft.com/content/2b4015a4-455c-11e7-8d27-59b4dd6296b8?mhq5j=e1; Peggy Hollinger ‘Brexit Risks Pushing UK Out of European Space Contracts’ Financial Times 12 April 2017 https://www.ft.com/content/2f0e7a6e-1eff-11e7-a454-ab04428977f9; Peter B De Selding, ‘UK companies say Brexit already excludes them from EU work’ Space Intel Report 21 March 2017 https://www.spaceintelreport.com/uk-companies-say-brexit-already-excludes-them-from-eu-work; Peggy Hollinger, ‘UK Space Sector Fears Brexit Will Hinder EU Contract Bids’ Financial Times 14 August 2016 https://www.ft.com/content/48e12b28-5e2d-11e6-bb77-a121aa8abd95

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