A vital deal which could safeguard Fylde aircraft making skills, has moved a step closer after a memorandum of intent was signed for 48 new Eurofighter Typhoons.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson visited Lancashire to break the news that the UK and Saudi governments had signed the deal which will lead to discussions on supplying the aircraft to the desert kingdom.
It was completed on the last day of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s three-day visit to Britain when met Gavin Williamson at RAF Northolt.
The visit has attracted criticism from human rights campaigners angry about Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemen civil war where civilians have been killed in air strikes.
But Mr Williamson said that Britain’s highs standards and ethics would be applied to any arms deal and that the potential agreement was fantastic news for skilled workers in Lancashire who in October had been told that BAE Systems needed to make around 700 redundancies.
If a final deal is agreed and aircraft production start, it is not thought that it would save any of those redundancies already announced but would maintain the production line and retain skills which would be needed for any future aircraft programme.
Mr Williamson said: “TOday we have been able to sign a memorandum of intent with the Saudi Government about the potential purchase of 48 Typhoon fighter jets.
"This is a very important step forward securing jobs here in Lancashire and while we’ve still got much further to go it is a clear sign that the Saudi Government are keen on making that investment.
“These jobs are not just important to Lancashire, they are important to the whole United Kingdom. Those skills that we have got here are ones which are world class.
“My hope is that what we have been doing in terms of Saudi Arabia and in terms of Qatar absolutely vital to preserving jobs here and secure prosperity in this area.
“But those skills, that knowledge, is world beating world leading and that’s why we have been working so hard to secure this order.
“While the Typhoon has a very long life ahead of it and it is the finest fighter jet in the world, we have to be thinking what is the next generation that’s why I think that it is such good news that what we have been doing in announcing the Combat Air Strategy.
"We are wanting to work with companies such as BAE Systems on what is going to be the successor to Typhoon, how do we keep the cutting edge of technology here in Britain and in Lancashire.”
When asked about the criticism of British arms sales to regimes around the world Mr Williamson said the UK government had raised humanitarian concerns about the war in Yemen and our export controls were the highest in the world.
He added: “Well, 5,000 jobs depend on Typhoon. We are a leading exporter, designer and manufacturer in the defence field but we have the very highest moral and ethical and legal standards of any country in the world. I am proud that we follow those and I hope and wish that other countries could match them.”
Fylde MP Mark Menzies was also at Warton for the news and said: “This is great news for Lancashire. Here at Warton there are more than 6,000 people over at Samlesbury more than 4,000. About 5,000 of those are working on Typhoon. Orders like this help to secure those jobs well into the future.”
He said he was confident that the intent could be converted into a full order as has been the case in other Typhoon deals.
“A lot of work has gone into this by the Government and by BAE Systems and it has been a long time coming. It is a declaration of intent but by goodness I think there is firm intent there.”
Mr Menzies said looking to the future, he was pleased with the Government’s recent Combat Air Strategy announcement which he hoped would lead to work starting on a 6th generation aircraft to move forward from the Typhoon and the fifth generation F-35 Lighting.
He said: “I would like to see a Typhoon equivalent rolling off the production line here in the 2030s, making sure the apprentices of today have got a job for tomorrow.”
A BAE Systems spokesman today said: “The UK Government has signed a Memorandum of Intent with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to aim to finalise discussions for the purchase of 48 Typhoon Aircraft.
“This is a positive step towards agreeing a contract for our valued partner. We are committed to supporting the Kingdom as it modernises the Saudi armed forces and develops key industrial capabilities critical to the delivery of Vision 2030.”
Saudi Arabia originally ordered 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft in 2007 but has been in negotiations over a further 48 for a number of years.
The last of the 72 was flown over to Saudi Arabia in June last year from the assembly line in Warton.
BAE Systems announced last October a programme for 2,000 UK redundancies as work on the 4th Generation aircraft Typhoon tails off for customers around the world.
Around 700 of those job losses will be here in Lancashire at Warton and Samlesbury.
But then a week later, Qatar came in with an order for 24 Typhoons which would help keep the assembly line going but would not prevent job losses.