Ex-MI6 head slams ‘disloyal’ civil servants in EU satellites row

Ex-head of MI6 blames ‘disloyal’ civil servants for Britain being outwitted by the EU in satellites row as he calls for UK to launch its own version of £9bn Galileo navigation system

  • Britain has pumped huge sums of money into satellite system to help spies
  • But EU is threatening to bar the UK from using back-up system after Brexit
  • Sir Richard Dearlove says Britain should go ahead with plans for its own system
  • He criticises civil servants for suggesting UK could have stayed part of scheme

The former head of MI6 has accused civil servants ‘ignorance or disloyalty’ in a growing row over an EU satellite navigation system.

Britain has been one of the biggest investors in the EU’s £9billion Galileo satellite navigation system.

But Brussels bureaucrats are insisting that the UK won’t be able to use a back-up system which is vital to military and intelligence services after Brexit because it will no longer be a member state.

Their diktat has caused fury in Downing Street, with officials drawing up plans to claw back the £1.2billion the UK has poured in to the project and design an independent system.

But Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service, says civil servants should never have told ministers there was a chance we might continue to use the system after Brexit.

The EU is insisting Britain won’t be able to use a back-up system to the Galileo satellite system, in which the UK has invested £1.2billion, after Brexit

He said: ‘The idea that the EU might agree to the UK participating on its own terms was always totally unrealistic.

‘British civil servants who sold this idea to their ministers were at best incompetently ignorant or, at worst, disloyal. In the world of EU officials, there can be no deviation from the rulebook.’

His comment were made in a paper written with Professor Gwythian Prins, a former adviser to the chief of the defence staff, for the website Briefings for Brexit, but seen by The Times.

The authors backed plans for Britain to build its own £5billion satellite navigation system to avoid becoming a ‘powerless fly in a spider’s web’ set by the EU.

They added: ‘Since so much of Galileo is British, the UK might do as the prime minister is reported to be considering seriously, namely develop its own global navigation network.

‘We strongly encourage her to take this prudent step in the interests of our national security.’

The EU scheme will see the creation of a navigation service made up of 24 satellites to rival America’s dominant GPS and a similar system used by Russia.

Former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove says Theresa May should go ahead with Britain’s own satellite system

While the UK could be given access to parts of Galileo after Brexit, Brussels has raised concerns about whether Britain can be trusted to use elements reserved specifically for security matters.

The armed forces and emergency services could be cut out of vital services.

A heavily-encrypted arm of the service has been incorporated into security plans by the British armed forces, who need GPS technology to guide missiles.

A Downing Street source said this week that the PM would never allow Britain’s security to be threatened by Brexit.

The source said: ‘The PM is clear our collective security is too important to haggle over. 

‘We want full access to Galileo, including the crucial secure elements that will help guide British missiles should they be needed to keep us all safe. But if we don’t get access, we will find an alternative.’

Privately, Whitehall officials blame France for galvanising opposition to Britain’s continued participation in the scheme.

And they warned that the EU’s stance could backfire as the Galileo system relies on ground bases in far flung overseas British territories, which would instead be used to help run a British rival. 

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