Ministers are refusing to say how much building work on naval supply ships must be carried out in the UK for the project to be deemed British.
The Government announced last year that the £1.5billion deal for three Fleet Solid Support ships would stay in Britain – quashing fears a foreign yard would win the contract.
But campaigners fear overseas firms which simply have a presence in the UK could benefit and want Ministry of Defence guarantees that British workers will benefit – and to know exactly how much work will be done onshore.
Shadow Defence Minister Stephen Morgan tabled a written parliamentary question asking “whether the Government’s procurement strategy for new Fleet Solid Support ships will set any lower limit on the proportion of work that must be completed in the UK in order to qualify as UK-led”.
Defence Minister Jeremy Quin replied: “The Fleet Solid Support ship competition will be launched in the spring.
“It is anticipated that the competition will require that the winning bidder must be a UK registered company or consortia and a significant proportion of the build and assembly work must be carried out in the UK.
“We will seek to deliver UK social value in recognition of the opportunities for prosperity and levelling-up that the programme presents.”
But the response failed to quell suspicions a foreign-owned firm could still cash in.
Mr Morgan said: “The Prime Minister has made a lot of promises to our Navy and to British industry, but once again this Government refuses to put its money where its mouth is.
“Building the Fleet Solid Support Ships in Britain is a no-brainer.
“Aside from the obvious security benefits it will provide the steady drumbeat of building needed to create jobs and sustain homegrown industry.
“The Government’s forthcoming industrial strategy must contain a real and enduring commitment to sovereign capability if this government is serious about levelling up.”
Prospect union general secretary Mike Clancy said: “The refusal to specify how much work on these vital support ships will be done in the UK will set alarm bells ringing that the Government may be backtracking on its commitment to build them here.
“If most of the work is done outside of the UK, and most of the jobs go to workers in foreign shipyards, then it will be a betrayal of defence workers in the UK who are desperate for this work.
“Nobody will be fooled if the Government try to fiddle the figures on this – ‘UK registered’ is not the same as UK jobs.”
“The Government have set out their vision for defence policy – what we now need is a vision for defence jobs so that we maintain the world-leading skills that are the bedrock of our national security and the heart of so many communities across the UK.”
The 40,000-tonne Fleet Solid Support vessels, part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, will resupply Navy warships with food, ammunition and explosives.
The competition for the contract was initially offered worldwide, with companies from Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea shortlisted, along with a UK consortium.
The British team, backed by the Keep Britain Afloat campaign, includes Babcock, BAE Systems, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.
The tendering process was halted suddenly in November 2019 – raising hopes the terms could be reset to boost British firms’ chances of winning the deal.
The Ministry of Defence triggered fresh dismay in August when foreign firms were invited to take part in early plans to build the vessels.
But in October, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Shipbuilding has historically been a British success story, and I am determined to revitalise this amazing industry as part of this Government’s commitment to build back better.
“The Fleet Solid Support warships competition will be the genesis of a great UK shipbuilding industry, and allow us to develop the skills and expertise for the shipyards of tomorrow.”
The Ministry of Defence said at the time that while “international companies will be invited to work in collaboration with UK firms to feed in their skills and expertise … the successful manufacturing team must be led by a British company”.