OneWeb is an exciting but risky gamble for taxpayers

Meanwhile, Elon Musk is pressing ahead with Starlink, the satellite broadband arm of SpaceX, which has the advantage of its own successful rocket-launching business. OneWeb intended to use Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit satellite-launching service, but it remains under development and the cancelled contract ended up in court. The few dozen OneWeb satellites now in orbit were put there by Russian rockets. But all is not lost. Whether or not OneWeb succeeds as a business, the Government appears to have decided that it can serve as further stimulus to Britain’s burgeoning space industry.

The decision to invest has been received in some quarters as a move in the Brexit culture war, as perhaps OneWeb’s constellation will offer an alternative to GPS or the EU’s Galileo project, in which Britain is no longer a participant.

This is a largely irrelevant sideshow, however. By investing in OneWeb, ministers are engaged in industrial strategy, and its success should be judged primarily on that basis. It is a big, risky signal, too, to critics of state intervention in industry that their concerns will be ignored for the foreseeable future. In the coming weeks, as the taxpayer steps in to bail out important companies crushed by Covid-19, their frustration will become a familiar feeling.

The line-up of partners in OneWeb suggests another thread of true motivation. As Brexit arrives, Britain needs to form tighter bonds with emerging economies as the experimental embrace of China ends in tears. Satellite broadband is a risky way to begin new eras of trade and state intervention in the economy, but begin they must.

HSBC in questionable company

The controversy over HSBC’s craven support of the crackdown in Hong Kong is unlikely to go away as the diplomatic row escalates, regardless of the bank’s public silence on the issue.

As chairman Mark Tucker plots his next move, presumably telling himself HSBC had no choice but to side with China, he should consider some of his allies in the cause against Hong Kong’s freedom. So far at the UN, the countries in favour of Beijing’s “national security law” include South Sudan, Venezuela, Yemen, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.

A man is known by the company he keeps, and perhaps HSBC will be.

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