Five new Royal Navy frigates expected to begin operation in 2023 risk being delayed after the Ministry of Defence admitted it had received no viable bids to build them.
Procurement for the Type 31e frigates will need to be restarted, the MoD admitted, sparking outrage from Scottish MPs. It risks leaving the Navy without enough warships to provide escorts for its two new aircraft carriers unless ageing vessels due to be retired from 2023 are kept in service.
The government unveiled the Type 31e as an alternative when it reduced the number of more sophisticated Type 26 frigates. Costs were capped at £250 million per vessel to attract foreign buyers, although none have come forward.
Ministers said construction of the ships would be sped up and that work would go to the Clyde, despite warnings of a lack of capacity to build both classes at the same time.
SNP defence spokesman Stewart McDonald said: “Suspending this vital programme on the very last day of parliament is the kind of thing we have grown to expect from this deeply cynical untrustworthy government – but it is still utterly shocking.”
Labour MP Paul Sweeney accused the government of “free-market dogma” and called for the Type 31e contract to be given to a consortium including Scottish shipyards without a new competition.
Gary Smith, Scottish secretary of the GMB union, said: “This will come as a real blow to shipbuilding communities in Scotland and across the UK.
“We are already losing jobs in yards like Rosyth as the carrier work is completed.
“This news comes after big cuts to the original Type 26 programme, the broken promise to build a state of the art frigate factory on the Clyde, that would have allowed us to compete in global markets for building complex warships and the decision by the Tories to put the tender for the three support vessels for the carriers out to international tender as opposed to putting the work into UK yards.
“It is an utter shambles but this is what happens when you have Treasury dominating decisions over sovereign defence capability.”