Boris Johnson, MP, Mayor of London, and de facto leader of the “Brexit” referendum campaign to make the United Kingdom leave the European Union (EU), has stated that while he wants the UK to leave the EU, he also wants the UK to remain within the European Space Agency (ESA). While speaking before an “Oasis for Workers” lunch meeting at St Margaret’s Church in his parliamentary constituency of Uxbridge on 26 February, when questioned about the continuance of UK’s membership of ESA, Boris Johnson said: “I see no reason why we (the UK) should not stay in it (ESA).”
Johnson repeated the sentiment in his response to a public question (from this correspondent) after his speech at the event, noting that the UK’s funding of scientific research should be maintained, including the UK’s funding of ESA. Johnson made the point that the USA and NASA should not have total domination of Western space technology adding: “ESA is a good counterweight to NASA”.
While the UK’s contribution to ESA is significantly smaller (less than half) than the individual financial contributions of France and Germany, it is growing. The UK space industry is known for its expertise in scientific instruments, satellite telecommunications and Earth Observation and has made significant technological contributions to several ESA missions. ESA has recently opened its European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) in Harwell, Oxfordshire. The UK now even contributes to ESA’s human spaceflight programme culminating in Tim Peake’s flight in ESA colours to the International Space Station.
Johnson’s main speech was on political and national leadership which he illustrated by referencing his research for his book on the life of his own hero, Winston Churchill. Churchill, of course, was half American, though in being born in England he was effectively precluded from running for US President, according to the US constitution.
Johnson himself laughed off the suggestion by this writer that given that he was actually born in the United States, he should try his luck as a US Presidential candidate in the event that his own leadership ambitions did not work out in the UK.
Comment by David Todd: While the Franco-German dominated ESA suffers from many of the bureaucratic and nationalistic woes that the EU does, and often makes strategic and even design mistakes, it does regularly achieve some magnificent things. While the UK could afford to do one item of the current ESA programme, it could not do so across the board. As such, for breadth of experience, the UK would be wise to stay in ESA (if it will still have us) whatever the result of the EU referendum in June.