George Freeman, MP
Minister of Science, Research and Innovation,
Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy,
1 Victoria Street,
London SW1H 0ET
Dear Mr Freeman,
People working in the UK’s space-based Earth observation industry are at risk of losing their jobs due to continued uncertainty surrounding the UK’s continued membership of the Copernicus program European Union, the resulting reduction in our involvement in ESA’s development of the next generation of Sentinels and the resulting diminishing influence on other EU institutions, such as the European Environment Agency .
To quote one of our members who felt the impact of this first hand; “We may be the first, but we certainly won’t be the last.” It follows that the longer this ambiguity exists, the greater will be the loss of so many British workers to our scientific and commercial economies.
My role as Chairman of the British Association of Remote Sensing Companies (BARSC) is to represent and promote the interests of our member companies. Hence this letter asking you for clarification on a situation that has dragged on for too long.
As you told the BBC: “[We want space to be] the first area where we demonstrate very clearly that the UK may have left the European political union, but we are not leaving the European scientific, cultural and research community. Far from there.
“In fact, we want to ensure that after our withdrawal from the EU, we become an even stronger player in this research community. I mentioned Copernicus in particular – we consider it a vital part of the ecosystem.
You’re right: Copernicus membership is a vital part of the ecosystem for so many UK businesses and fundamental to their business survival. Without influence over the development of Sentinel data, the freedom to bid on hardware contracts and the ability to offer the highly trained services of their staff to EU projects, many UK companies will simply cease to exist as that operations will be transferred to the mainland.
Again, the proof comes from a member company who recently had to, and I quote: “transfer all business from the UK to our [EU-based] company, to win the contract.
It has been reported that our membership in the “European scientific, cultural and research community” has become bogged down in wider post-Brexit negotiations (some have reported that it is now a “bargaining chip “), but on behalf of the members, I must ask; how did we allow this to happen?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said countless times that he wants the UK to move ‘towards high pay, high skills, high productivity and – yes – therefore a low tax economy’, but here is an industry who can lead the world in mitigating climate change, sustaining a nation’s diet and ensuring stronger national security, serving as a political pawn?
In your response, could you outline your final thoughts regarding the three areas I listed in my opening paragraph and explain the timeline for ending this situation.
When can we expect to know if our country will continue to be a member of one of the most important science programs ever created? Our industry needs clarity more than ever.