British GPS

Posted on Mon 28 May 2018 in Comment

We understand that the Chancellor has announced that following Brexit, the UK will no longer be part of the Galileo GPS system but will be going it alone. Here is my report from the future on how that went.

London: 9th May 2025

I was lucky enough to obtain a ticket to the combined VE-day 80th anniversary celebrations and the launch of the new British GPS “BritSat” system at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich last night.

I was particularly lucky to be there given that I had already heard a rumour that my credentials were being questioned as a result of last year’s “Denigration of Britishness Act”, after my article last week in which I wondered whether the system was ready for release, despite failed deadlines in 2022 and 2024.

In any case whoever was responsible for security at the door had not heard that rumour or at any rate had not received any confirmation from the Ministry of Patriotic Information or its Minister Priti Patel.

I had arrived early for the event, and was thus able to get a seat near the front of the hall. Three huge screens were suspended over the stage: on these were projected pictures of Sir Isaac Newton, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Professor Stephen Hawking. These I understood to be symbolic of British scientific endeavour, particularly in the field being celebrated.

About five minutes after I arrived there was a small commotion: two young men in suits rushed into the room and held a whispered conversation with a member of the Observatory staff. A minute later, the screen with Hawking’s picture went blank. It remained unused throughout the event.

Later, Civil Service sources, speaking off the record (and I believe at considerable risk to their own careers) confirmed what I had already guessed: in the light of last week’s announcement to stop all funding for Theoretical Physics research, combined with the recent 50% across the board cuts in disablement benefits, the Government felt that any mention of Hawking might be counter productive.

The main event began when the Prime Minister, Mr Rees-Mogg entered the hall. He was followed by the Duke of Sussex, accompanied by his wife and their two children. It was perhaps unfortunate that comments from Lord Johnson (the former Foreign Secretary, who was accompanying a group of Uzbek dignitaries) on their entry were clearly audible: “bloody piccaninnies”.

The Prime Minister lauded the work of the British scientists who had made this British GPS system a reality. He compared the current situation to the “days when Britain stood alone”, and commented that if only British forces had had such a system at the time of Dunkirk, many lives could have been saved.

Toasts were raised to the scientists who created the system. A formal black tie reception was held during which we journalists were required to wait outside, until the flyover by Spitfires and Lancaster bombers took place.

We got a good view of these aircraft and also of the column of Centurion tanks, the first vehicles in the armed forces to use the new GPS system, as they set off from Greenwich to take up their positions at Dover as part of the new “Europe Border Reinforcement Force (EBRF)”.

It was perhaps unfortunate that it was in the full view of television cameras that the column of tanks took a sharp right turn almost immediately and started falling one by one into the river Thames.

Later analysis showed that sadly there were certain problems with the integration of data from BritSat into the software on the tanks. The government’s decision to allow only software developed by Capita to operate as clients to the BritSat system has been widely questioned, and the sad events of last night seem to confirm those doubts.

A scientific source, speaking off the record, indicated that a misalignment between the satellite’s use of metric units and the requirements of the government’s recent “Imperial Units Act” as applied by Capita’s developers was responsible.