Campaigners today call on the Government to change a key shipbuilding plan to save Britain’s naval industry.
Union leaders want Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson to hand a £1billion contract for new Royal Navy support ships to a UK consortium.
They believe a tweak to the National Shipbuilding Strategy would mean Fleet Solid Support ships, which will resupply the Britain’s two new aircraft carriers, must be built in here, protecting the UK’s warship-building sector for decades to come.
Nearly two million Unite, GMB, Prospect and Community members have been sent an e-mail urging them to send a message to Mr Williamson to build the FSS ships in Britain, as part of a ‘Keep Britain Afloat’ campaign.
Confederation Engineering and Shipbuilding Unions general secretary Ian Waddell said: “It is vital we are able protect our ability to design, build and maintain naval ships in the UK.
“If they don’t, we will lose those skills forever.
“The fact remains that if the Government wants a post-Brexit defence capability then it’s going to need a post-Brexit industrial strategy, which means spending money at home.
“Sending work and spending taxpayer’s money overseas, whilst allowing UK yards to wither on the vine and putting skilled jobs at risk, is the ultimate false economy.
The competition to design and construct the FSS vessels for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary unleashed a major political row after the Tories claimed they were not warships – even though they will be armed and steam into battle zones, resupplying the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, frigates and destroyers.
That meant that under the National Shipbuilding Strategy, the deal to build two, possibly three ships, could be offered to foreign yards – potentially denying British workers and firms a massive windfall.
The Ministry of Defence announced in November that companies from Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea were in the running for the contract – with a UK consortium also shortlisted.
The British team is made up of leading manufacturing and engineering companies Babcock, BAE Systems, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.
The winner will be revealed next year.
Mr Waddell added: “We want to be very clear – it was a ministerial decision to adopt a National Shipbuilding Strategy and a flawed international competition.
“It will be a simple ministerial decision to change that strategy, by joining our campaign and sending ministers you can help make that happen”.
Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who sits on the Commons Defence Committee, said: “One of the benefits of Brexit is meant to be our ability to buy British and promote, on an international stage, the best of British manufacturing – celebrating British design and build; so it’s time for the Government to put our money where their mouths are.
“The Fleet Solid Support ships are defence assets to be deployed in areas of conflict, so this ludicrous position is also about our long-term national security and ensuring that the British Navy have the best – the best obviously being British.”
Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith branded it a “complete disgrace that the Conservatives are willing to see these lucrative contracts go overseas”.
She added: “Placing these orders with UK firms would bring enormous benefits to our communities, including high-skilled jobs and apprenticeships for the next generation.
“Sadly this Tory government is all too happy to buy defence equipment off-the-shelf from foreign companies, without a second’s thought for the UK workers who then lose out.
“The next Labour Government will support our UK shipbuilding industry by placing orders with UK yards wherever possible.”
Lib Dem defence spokesman Jamie Stone said: “These highly skilled jobs are the bedrock of communities, and the government must do all it can to protect these jobs.
“It will be the high road to Hell for our ship building industry if we let these contracts go and that is why I back the campaign to the hilt.
“It’s time for the Conservative Government to stop falsely blaming the EU and start acting.”