Thompson raises Midlothian space rocket concerns at PMQs

Thursday November 19th 2020

Owen Thompson

Written by Midlothian View Reporter, Luke Jackson

Midlothian MP, Owen Thompson, has called for the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure highly skilled jobs in Scotland’s growing space sector are not put at risk by an agreement reached with the United States on space technology safeguards.

There are concerns within the industry that the UK-US Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) could lead to wholesale outsourcing of the rocket launch industry to US corporations, damaging the development of the UK based sector. Potential issues include launch vehicles from UK based companies being classed as “foreign” under the agreement, if they outsource their supply chains abroad – as is necessary until homegrown capacity develops.

The Technology Safeguards Agreement was signed in June but the text was only released in October, with no meaningful scrutiny opportunities for parliament or consultation with many stakeholders in the industry.

Mr Thompson has previously raised a number of parliamentary questions seeking clarification on the agreement. He raised his concerns directly with the Prime Minister today following the announcement of plans for a ‘Space Command’ with the first rocket to be launched in Scotland in 2022.

Mr Thompson has called for a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the concerns about the agreement and called on Mr Johnson to ensure the homegrown space industry, such as rocket company Skyrora in Midlothian, was central to plans for developing UK launch capabilities.

Mr Thompson said

“The space industry offers highly skilled jobs in an exciting growth sector in Scotland, and I welcome plans for a space control to develop the UK’s space capabilities.

“However there are concerns that the recent agreement signed with the US could be detrimental to the future of the sovereign launch industry, currently being led by innovative companies like Skyrora in Midlothian.

“It is important as we progress plans that we support the growing industry in Scotland to reap the economic benefits from the new space race, and we ensure we don’t end up with exclusively US corporations launching from UK soil. Yet the details of how this will affect UK companies is unclear.

“There has been a worrying lack of transparency over the UK-US Technology Safeguards Agreement which was published after a long delay and signed without meaningful consultation with key players and no chance for proper scrutiny in parliament.

“I welcome the Prime Minister’s response and his commitment to look at the concerns I raised on behalf of many in the space industry in Scotland. It’s important to work together with partners in the US, but not hamper growth in the homegrown industry.”

Owen Thompson questioned the Prime Minister following the statement on the Integrated Review of foreign, defence, security and development policy, November 19th 2020.

Owen Thompson MP said:

“The Prime Minister has outlined his ambition for a space control to secure space launch capability from the UK, but concerns have been raised by some in the UK-based space industry about the recently published US-UK technology safeguards agreement, which has not yet been scrutinised by this place. What guarantee can the Prime Minister give the UK-based industry that it will be central to any space programme, and will he meet me to discuss this in more detail?

The Prime Minister replied saying:
“The honourable Gentleman raises an important and interesting issue. I will do my best to ensure that his concerns are addressed and that the House is able to look at all the technology safeguard measures that we are putting in place. That is obviously right.”

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