Britain’s new Defence Minister backed British shipbuilders days before she was appointed – fuelling hopes a £1.5billion deal could stay in the UK, we can reveal.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan told MPs of the need “to hammer home the importance of sovereign capability and work with industry to build opportunities”, in comments unearthed by the Mirror.
Speaking on July 16 in a Westminster Hall debate on defence spending, Ms Trevelyan said: “Getting our shipbuilding strategy right will be critical to ensuring that we have throughput of work and know that, if we get into times of crisis, we have the supply chain we need within our borders.”
Just 11 days later she was appointed Minister for Defence Procurement – giving her a key role in deciding whether to award a British group a contract to build three naval supply ships.
Campaigners urged Ms Trevelyan to standby her words and hand the bumper deal for three Fleet Solid Support ships to UK workers, and speeding-up the ordering of Type 31e light frigates.
Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said: “Anne-Marie Trevelyan is quite right to stress the importance of the UK’s sovereign capability.
“Our shipbuilding industry supports thousands of UK jobs, but it is also essential that we can build ships here for reasons of national security.
“Ms Trevelyan now has an important opportunity to follow through on these comments and award the contract for the Fleet Solid Support Ships to a UK shipyard.
“ Labour has always said that it is utter madness for the Conservatives to allow this work to go overseas as this would completely sell out our UK shipyard workers and undermine our sovereign capability.”
Prospect union deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “The new minister is absolutely right that the UK needs a more coherent approach to shipbuilding that focuses on maintaining our sovereign capability and supporting jobs and shipyards in the UK, as well as providing the best kit for the Royal Navy.
“The new ministerial team in the MoD (Ministry of Defence) should hit the ground running by accelerating the Type 31e order and immediately ordering the new support ships from UK yards.”
Companies from Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea are in the running for the contract, with a UK consortium also shortlisted.
The British team, backed by the Keep Britain Afloat campaign, includes Babcock, BAE Systems, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.
The winner will be revealed next year.
The vessels will resupply destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers with ammunition, explosives and food.
But ministers claim the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels would not be warships – meaning that under European rules foreign companies can bid for the contract.
In a letter to Boris Johnson , seen by the Mirror, Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions boss Ian Waddell calls for the National Shipbuilding Strategy to be amended so the vessels are reclassified as warships – meaning they would have to be built in Britain because of national security.
He wrote: “These ships will be expected to sail at full steam alongside the two new aircraft carriers supplying them with vital ammunition, aircraft parts, food and other supplies, whilst under fire in war zones.
“Given that the £1.5billion cost of the contract has already been budgeted and we are not asking for new money, this simple measure would go some way towards offering safeguards to our industry at a time when no-deal planning is setting aside additional and significant sums for other sectors.
“The FSS ships will be armed and capable of carrying military helicopters and personnel.”
An MoD spokesman said: “We are required by law to procure the Fleet Solid Support ships through open international competition.
“We issued formal tender documents to bidders, including a UK consortium, in late 2018.
“The final decision regarding the winning bid will be made in 2020.
“Our priority is always to procure the best solution which balances sovereign capability, value for money for the taxpayer and provides a capability which delivers hard power to our enemies if we need to.”