The UK risks missing out on more than 11,000 engineering jobs and £285 million of tax revenue if it awards contracts to foreign shipbuilders as part of a £1 billion order for three new Royal Navy vessels.
Unions have warned the government against a “gross betrayal” of UK shipbuilding after documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation revealed the Ministry of Defence is in talks with companies in Germany, Italy, Holland, Poland, South Korea and Spain to build three fleet auxiliary vessels.
Foreign companies are competing with five UK shipyards that have expressed interest in the contract, including Rosyth, Scotstoun and Port Glasgow. The contract to work on the vessels, which replenish warships with food and other supplies, is set to go out to international tender at the end of this month.
Up to 6,700 jobs could be created or secured in the UK if the order went to a domestic shipbuilder, including thousands of roles in the supply chain, according to the GMB union.
A contract to build four Tide-class tankers was awarded to Daewoo in South Korea, with critics saying that foreign firms have been offered billions of pounds worth of low-interest loans and financial guarantees by their governments to help them win deals.
GMB national officer Ross Murdoch said: “Ministers are not bound by normal EU rules on competitive tendering when it comes to military ships. There really can be no excuse for sending our shipbuilding contracts overseas.
“We face being sold down the river if the work goes to artificially subsidised international competitor shipyards instead.
“It would be a gross betrayal of the spirit of the ‘red, white and blue Brexit’ that Theresa May promised if this crucial contract is awarded outside of the UK and jobs here are lost.”
Shadow Scotland office minister and ex-Clyde shipyard worker Paul Sweeney said awarding the work to a foreign company “could do permanent damage to our highly-skilled industries on the Clyde and elsewhere across the UK”.
SNP defence procurement spokesman, Rosyth MP Douglas Chapman, said: “This Tory government … is ignoring the value for the taxpayer by having these ships built at the likes of Rosyth instead of yards in other parts of the world.”
An MoD spokesman said: “All our warships are built in the UK and with the Type 26 frigates securing 4,000 Scottish jobs and 20 years of work on the Clyde, and industry preparing to bid for the new Type 31e class, we are witnessing a renaissance in British shipbuilding.
“We are launching a competition for three new Fleet Solid Support ships this year and strongly encourage British yards to take part.”