Fresh row erupts over plans for Royal Navy's new fleet of solid support ships
LABOUR has been warned not ‘undermine a good news story’ about a major £1.6bn project to build huge new support ships for the navy’s two aircraft carriers amid fears UK shipyards will miss out on the chance to construct the vessels.
Shadow armed forces minister Stephen Morgan has slammed Whitehall for ‘failing to prioritise UK yards and suppliers’ to build the three new vessels.
In a scathing attack against Boris Johnson’s government, the Portsmouth South MP accused the Conservatives of ‘failing to put their money where their mouth was’ and back British industry.
But his comments have drawn a response from cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt, who swept aside the Labour MP’s fears and instead accused him of using the shipbuilding project as a political football.
The Portsmouth North MP and former defence secretary told The News: ‘All our vessels should built in the UK and I fully expect them to be.
‘Steady order books are vital for the sovereign capabilities we need and to maintain investment in the skills base. The national shipbuilding strategy together with the order books we now have, should give the sector confidence.’
She added: ‘This is a good news story for the country and the sector. I’d ask Labour not to seek to undermine that.’
The tender process for the naval support ships had been cancelled in 2019 after the government’s shipbuilding tsar, Sir John Parker, recommended a UK-only tender.
He said: ‘These vessels embody our commitment to a truly global presence by supporting the Royal Navy’s operations around the world.
‘The competition reaffirms our dedication to invest in shipbuilding and support jobs across the UK maritime industry.’
However, Labour says that there has still been no word on what proportion of the vessels will be built in UK yards, despite the government saying the successful bidder must be ‘led by a British company’.
Mr Morgan said: ‘The prime minister has made a lot of promises to our navy and to British industry, but once again this government refuses to put its money where its mouth is.
‘Building the fleet solid support ships in Britain is a no-brainer. Aside from the obvious security benefits it will provide the steady drumbeat of building needed to create jobs and sustain homegrown industry.
‘It is baffling how much time and money this government is willing to waste, when instead it could be following Labour’s call to buy, make and sell more in Britain.’
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: 'The final contract for the manufacture of the fleet solid support ships will be awarded to a UK business, either solely or as part of a consortium. We welcome international partners to team with British firms.
‘We will seek to maximise UK social value in the programme and recognise the opportunities to strengthen the UK maritime sector.’