Defence secretary Penny Mordaunt insists on shipbuilding 'policy change' as Brexit battle looms

DEFENCE secretary Penny Mordaunt has vowed action to ensure lucrative shipbuilding contracts aren’t ‘bargained away’ during the final round of Brexit negotiations.

By Tom Cotterill
Monday, 8th July 2019, 7:53 pm
RFA Tiderace, pictured alongside at Princess Royal Jetty in Portsmouth, was built in South Korean yard and not a UK one. Photo: MoD
RFA Tiderace, pictured alongside at Princess Royal Jetty in Portsmouth, was built in South Korean yard and not a UK one. Photo: MoD

The Tory cabinet minister has instructed British negotiators to fight for the UK’s rights to build its own ships without having to offer the multimillion-pound contracts to overseas bidders first.

In a bold move, the loyal Brexiteer insisted ‘a change’ in future government policy was needed and has now approached key officials in Whitehall to make this happen.

She has already outlined her plan to officials at the Department for Exiting the European Union in hope it can be implemented before Britain cuts ties with Brussels on Halloween.

Defence secretary Penny Mordaunt. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Speaking exclusively to The News, the Portsmouth North MP said her proposal was about strengthening Britain’s shipbuilding industry.

She said: ‘I have written to the Department of Exiting the European Union to say in future Brexit negotiations we want the right to onshore every ship and to build them in the UK – we do not wish them to bargain away in future negotiations that provision.

‘This is going to be a change in policy. We can obviously still buy off-the-shelf but we will always reserve the right to build these ships in the UK.’

Industry insiders have been delighted by Ms Mordaunt’s stance and hinted a change in the UK policy could see an early boom for Britain.

Leading figures have told The News this could potentially see British industry claiming a lucrative £1bn contract to build fleet solid support (FSS) ships that will one day provide a lifeline to the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers.

A consortium of British companies are in the running to build the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels but are competing against other groups in Spain and Japan.

It comes after a previous contract to build four Tide-class RFA tankers was awarded to a South Korean yard.

‘The strategy has to change on FSS,’ one industry insider said. ‘It’s just untenable for Penny to spend £1bn on warships that would be built in Spanish yards when we’re leaving the EU.’

However, union bosses have lashed out, saying these ships should have always been built in the UK and never offered to foreign contractors.

Ross Murdoch, GMB national officer for shipbuilding, said an EU rule – Article 346 – has allowed countries to opt-out from international tendering for military vessels ‘for decades’ and said there was ‘no excuse’ for sending UK ships abroad to be built.

‘We have a highly skilled shipbuilding workforce in the UK that is more than capable of making these ships at a fair market price,’ he added.

‘Instead of talking about the far-off future, ministers should focus on the crisis in British shipbuilding that is happening now.

‘Penny Mordaunt should use the powers she already has to safeguard thousands of livelihoods by keeping the FSS order in the UK.’

Pressed on whether her plans would affect the FSS contract, Ms Mordaunt said: ‘That’s already out there, it won’t necessarily apply on that.’