Ministers slam fresh EU move to exclude Britain from Galileo satellite project after Brexit
Britain's hopes of staying involved in the £8bn Galileo satellite project after Brexit have been dealt a fresh blow by the EU - prompting ministers to threaten a walkout.
The UK has been at loggerheads with EU member states over its future involvement in the Galileo project, which hopes to rival the American GPS sat-nav system.
Britain has contributed around £1bn to the joint project so far, with UK scientists offering their expertise.
But Brussels believes that allowing the UK to continue to take part in the scheme as a third country after Brexit will constitute a security risk.
In a new blow for the UK, delegations to the European Space Agency have now voted to press ahead with a fresh round of contracts on the project despite British objections.
The UK had been pressing for a delay on the bidding until Galileo's post-Brexit future had been decided - but the latest decision means British companies will now find it almost impossible to win contracts under the scheme.
Science Minister Sam Gyimah hit out at the move, saying: "The Government has been clear that our preference is to contribute fully to Galileo as part of a deep security partnership with the EU, and that negotiations should be allowed to run their course.
"By forcing through this vote, while excluding UK companies from the contracts on unfounded security grounds, the European Commission has put this at risk.
"There is an option on the table that would benefit both the UK and EU. If that is not accepted by the EU, we are a proud and confident nation and will be looking at all alternatives."
Last month Chancellor Philip Hammond hinted that the UK could set up its own rival satellite the EU continued to play hardball on the project.
"We need access to a satellite system of this kind, our plan has always been to work as a core member of the Galileo project, contributing financially and technical to the project," he said.
"If that proves impossible then Britain will have to go alone, possibly with partners outside Europe and the US to build a third, competing system. But for national security strategic reasons, we need access to a system and we'll ensure that we get it."