Much has been said today about the intelligence risks arising from the exit arrangements proposed by the Government.
The risk to UK’s unique intelligence capability is at point 5 below, as part of a wider briefing on the tendency of Government to drive the UK further into the EU’s defence landscape at the moment we should be leaving it.
The Withdrawal Agreement, which makes only a few (albeit unpleasant) assurances to the EU on defence, must be viewed in the context of the Political Declaration which outlines a commitment to participate in EU defence industrial and defence policy structures “to the extent possible under the conditions of [European] Union law”. EU law provides for a considerable extent of participation but it is conditional on the UK being a receiver of rules and decisions. As the EU Commission confirmed to Cyprus in November, the UK would have no say in the facets of EU Defence in which it committed to participate. Those facets are so mutually linked that EU rules provide no exemptions, special caveats or ad hoc arrangements. The EU has said so and UK diplomats have acknowledged it.
Surely then, the UK would back off from anything unpalatable when the moment came. This is the point, the moment to resist is now, yet the Government is placing the UK into the facets of EU Defence (and even participating in binding policy-linked industrial and budgetary trials) knowing what the full policy commitment will be.
The Withdrawal Agreement would bind the Government’s hands and allow the EU to drive for a tougher imposition during the weeks and months when the future relationship is sealed.
It is no wonder several MPs are calling these problems the ‘Defence Backstop’.
- Defence industrial: Mrs May is signing up for EU defence directive compliance which obliges the UK to put all defence contracts out to tender in the EU. Without these commitments, the UK could decide where defence contracts would go e.g. guarantee building the £1bn Fleet Solid Support ships (Royal Fleet Auxiliary logistic support ships) in the UK. Current proposals would still oblige the UK to adhere long-term to the EU defence directive, even after the end of a transition, meaning an enduring risk to UK build capability.
- Defence policy: Mrs May has been preparing to stay in new EU defence industrial, political and budgetary schemes which by definition require attachment to EU defence policy.
- Defence treaty sidelines MPs: the Withdrawal Agreement says the UK will stay in the above defence schemes via a separate arrangement after Brexit Day. This treaty after 29 March would be by executive powers, so MPs won’t be able to touch it. Even if the Withdrawal Agreement ‘springboard’ is defeated, ministers can still sign the defence treaty especially since Parliament and public have not noticed its risks.
- Financial commitment to EU defence schemes: non-EU participation in EU defence schemes requires payments. Also linked to European Investment Bank membership. Participant states’ payments are used an incentive to greater involvement and therefore participation under EU authority.
- Intelligence risk: EU Commission slides and European External Action Service statements show that the EU expects the UK, as a future participant in EU defence policy (Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP), to commit via Security of Information Agreements to the growing intelligence sharing requirements of CSDP members. A combination of the political obligations arising from this type of structural relationship and the rapid ongoing development of the EU’s Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity (SIAC) as EU intelligence hub, when considered together, brings an increasing risk to the UK’s Special Relationship with the US, particularly the UK role in the exclusive Five Eyes network.
- MPs were sidelined while the UK joined: MPs have never voted on the UK joining EU defence schemes, yet defence industry involvement has been established, making withdrawal incrementally more difficult. When UK joined, ministers breached
Parliamentary rules governing the scrutiny of EU defence arrangements. We would expect a ‘temporary’ CSDP-replacement treaty on or after 29 March to facilitate the growing UK industrial attachment to EU schemes, which would make it less easy to escape a longer, deeper political attachment later.
- NATO duplication: ‘EU Defence’ already has the potential to duplicate or detract from NATO in 20 separate areas just from the starting list, from defence research to airlift, military planning and the strategy teams triggering and coordinating an emergency response. ‘Defence decision-making autonomy from NATO’ as a concept is stated in EU Council agreements, while ‘EU defence sovereignty’ and ‘strategic autonomy’ are frequently expressed. Intention is to be an autonomous semi-detached bloc within NATO, akin to any current non-EU member. EU Defence is growing rapidly in finance, function and personnel.
There are two topics here which US counterparts will find particularly alarming: the threat to Five Eyes and US exclusion from the defence industrial schemes. Non-EU involvement in EU schemes carries onerous obligations. The other objective was preventing NATO duplication. Everything in EU Defence could have been done via NATO.