Britain’s aerospace and defence companies fired a warning shot at Boris Johnson’s government on Wednesday after chancellor Sajid Javid’s defiant comments that there would be no regulatory alignment with the EU after Brexit.
In a speech to the sector’s biggest annual gathering in London, Tony Wood, incoming president of the industry trade body, ADS, said staying aligned with European aviation regulations was “in our national interest”.
Mr Wood went on to warn that any changes to the current status — where the UK remains a member of the European Union Aviation Safety regime (EASA) — “need to be considered and carefully introduced.”
“If the UK government has a different ambition, it needs to work with us to make sure we can deliver,” Mr Wood added.
People close to the new ADS boss called for the government to set out its position in consultation with industry. They said his remarks reflected deep frustration in the aerospace and defence industries over the government’s failure to accept the implications of divergence from the EU.
Companies and trade bodies across several sectors reacted with dismay to comments by Mr Javid in an interview with the FT last week in which he insisted Britain would not be a ruletaker from Brussels. He added that after 3½ years of Brexit paralysis businesses in the UK have had plenty of time to prepare for the effects of leaving the bloc.
Two senior aerospace executive said it was unclear whether this was clear policy or whether Mr Javid was merely taking a hardline position ahead of what are likely to be tough trade negotiations with the EU.
Either way, it was impossible for businesses to prepare for a new regime if they did not know what the government proposed in its place, said Paul Everitt, ADS chief executive.
The UK aerospace industry, which has a highly-regulated global supply chain, relies on membership of EASA to maintain common safety and certification standards that are also acceptable to the US safety agency, the Federal Aviation Administration.
The industry has estimated that it would take a decade and cost between £30m and £40m a year to create a UK safety authority with all the expertise of EASA, against a current contribution to the European agency of £1m to £4m annually.
While aircraft components are exempt from tariffs under World Trade Organisation rules, the aerospace industry has long argued that divergence from European regulations would add cost and complexity to UK manufacturing and jeopardise export success. In 2018, UK exported some £34bn in aerospace products.
In October, Mr Everitt wrote to British government ministers raising the industry’s concerns about divergence after it emerged that Mr Johnson planned to ditch close regulatory ties with the EU.
Tom Enders, the former chief executive of Airbus — the Franco-German aerospace group which has significant operations in the UK — warned repeatedly that the company could begin to shift investment out of Britain if competitiveness was harmed by Brexit.
In his speech on Wednesday night, Mr Wood also called on government to double the funding of the Aerospace Technology Institute from the current £150m a year to £300m a year to 2036 in a bid to preserve the UK’s future technological expertise. This funding would be matched by industry, Mr Everitt said.