Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Ministry of Defence and MP for Canterbury and Whitstable
Speech from VfB event in Portsmouth 11 June 2016.
It is an honour for me to have the opportunity to address so many men and women who have served their country and to be here in Portsmouth, the home of the Royal Navy. Each of you believes in Britain and many of you have risked your lives for her.
In 1975, I was on the committee which organised the Yes campaign in Oxford. The prospectus for the European Economic Community was just that… a community of nations with access to the world’s largest free market. A decade later… when the Berlin Wall came down, we seemed to stand on the brink of a new World Order with a prosperous, happy Europe at the heart of it.
Since then, the landscape has changed. The old danger from communism… which was at least predictable… has been replaced by a string of threats from Islamism to a resurgent Russia. Equally worrying for me is the insidious erosion of a sense of cohesion in the West… especially among young people. Polling among Americans aged under 30 reveals that more than half no longer support capitalism, a system which many brave American men and women gave their lives to defend from communism. Trump and Sanders have millions of followers over there. Marine Le Pen gathers support in France… while a party whose founders included members of the Waffen SS almost secured the Austrian presidency, last month.
The common feature both sides of the Atlantic is that a generation are growing up who see a small elite with dizzying living standards… while… for most… prospects are less good than for their parents. Both here and in America, this is driven largely by mass migration, which offers cheap labour to business, cheap au pairs for the wealthy… but lower wages and loss of prospects for housing not just for those at the bottom but the middle classes too.
In the EU, this is compounded by the unmitigated disaster of the single currency. This is an experiment without any happy antecedents. The nearest equivalent, the Latin Monetary Union from 1864 – 1914, included France, Italy, Belgium, Serbia and Greece… and sucked in Austria Hungary and Spain as associates. This slowly collapsed, impoverishing much of Southern Europe… and expelling Greece in 1908 solved nothing.
Prosperity is a friend of peace … poverty drives discontent. So, rather than stabilising Europe, this early attempt at monetary union helped to create the unhappy economic conditions which contributed to Europe’s slide towards the First World War.
So, now, a century later, what is the truth? How does the EU affect our national defence?
First, the working level.
EU legislation affects our armed forces in many of the same ways that it undermines small businesses. If you ask any young officer or Senior NCO today, what is the worst part of the job, it is endless paperwork.
Military drivers are subject to EU mileage limits… so exercises have to be planned around this constraint… sometimes have to stop altogether if limits are broken.
Let us pass swiftly over the impact of the Habitats Directive on bridging exercises… because bureaucracy is boring … but let us remember that… the next time we send our forces into action, they will suffer for it … through stifled initiative and the loss of talented young men and women who have left fed up with paperwork.
And this reminds us of the way the EU sees defence… as another routine area for exerting bureaucratic control… rather than a vital and risky business.
Admiral Lane-Nott rightly stressed the threat of Europe duplicating NATO structures. Do we need more headquarters when European defence spending averages only 1.3% of GDP?
It is not only about low spending but, with a few honourable exceptions, also about combat readiness. At the height of operations in Afghanistan, many European NATO members were having difficulties deploying just dozens of troops at a time. Many of those who went were restricted by caveats, such as no flying at night or no combat patrols beyond a certain distance from a base.
The fine men and women who serve in our armed forces deserve the best equipment. I am delighted that we have committed to 2%. The European Union initially acknowledged the exceptional nature of defence by granting the purchase of military equipment exemption from the myriad EU rules.
Nevertheless with treaty changes and the highly politicised European Court of Justice set on EU integration at all costs, no longer.
It is sobering to realise that on July 24th 1914 the British Cabinet met for a crisis meeting … a meeting that lasted even longer than the one we all heard about a few weeks ago… which ruled on the outcome of the EU negotiations.
In his diaries Churchill tells us that it was only towards the end of the 1914 meeting that deliberation… on the crisis in Ireland… was interrupted by Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey, saying there were also serious developments on the continent which needed discussion too.
11 days later we were in a World War.
This sombre thought reminds us of two things. That both the first role of government… is the defence of the realm. And that our forces sometimes need to be called upon with little or no warning. Yet the purchase of their equipment is increasingly subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice.
A look through the ECJ’s record does not inspire confidence. Initially, the Court accepted Article 346 which exempted national security from its jurisdiction. But over time, as in other areas, it has gradually become bolder. In a 2008 case, the Court tightened the EU’s control over procurement by demanding that exclusions on national security grounds had to be for exclusively military equipment. So, the Court has ruled that in, ship building cases, Governments cannot contribute to the cost, because there is a civilian aspect to the construction.
In future, it could mean that when the Ministry of Defence buys their equipment, they may be told that “rules” were not followed. We are dragged through this political court, needlessly wasting our money on the wrong type of defence. It means that our defence industry could be undercut by other European competitors with inferior products, but we cannot discriminate. It means we may know what equipment our forces need, and which company can provide it, but then we still have to open a tendering process to satisfy EU law. This may cause further delay in acquiring important equipment, and hesitation in defence rarely produces happy outcomes.
What also, of our defence exports? Britain has been instrumental in helping our allies around the world against terrorism with important equipment and training. We run one of the most rigorous arms exports regimes in the world. But what happens if the European Union tries to take control over who we can sell equipment to, as it tries to develop a common foreign policy? And how do we stop it interfering with our technological links with the United States, the world leader in defence technology and our strongest ally.
Speculation? This is what a paper from the European Institute for Strategic Studies said
This is what a paper from the European Institute for Strategic Studies said
‘It is now crystal clear that Article 346 is neither an automatic exclusion of defence from EU Law nor a provision limiting EU competence.’
If we remain shackled to the European Court, we will inevitably continue to lose control. And as we all know, defence is different. Bureaucracy is not just annoying. The nation’s security and people’s lives are at stake. And by staying in we are choosing to hand over control to an organisation that sees defence integration as in the Commissions’ own words:
‘A strategic and economic necessity”
but evidently does not understand it.
Whilst the majority of its members are unwilling to fund or use their militaries. And it will be our service men and women at the sharp end who suffer.
Of course, leaving the European Union does not mean ending our many, valuable sovereign arrangements with our most trusted European allies. The EU has carried out some useful small-scale missions – the anti-piracy one led by the UK is one…
As an undistinguished former airborne soldier, I was deeply impressed by the lightning strike by French Paras in Mali. Does anyone really believe we would leave France in the lurch, because that mission has an EU label?
More importantly, our air forces are working together over the skies of Syria and Iraq to tackle the blight of Daesh which has brought carnage to the streets of Paris and, more recently, Brussels – but through an ad hoc arrangement, not an EU structure.
These ties will remain, whether we are in or out of the EU.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that we will only get one shot at this. He fought hard for Britain with his renegotiation, but he secured very little. And crucially, in the process, he gave up our veto on measures applying to others wishing to go ahead without us. So … in the past we have been able to block EU attempts to set up parallel defence structures or interfere with our defence planning, now our partners may well be able to get past us, leaving us as the odd one out on defence but still subject to the European Court, with its federalising agenda. I thoroughly agree with earlier speakers on this.
So we must be sure of what we are voting on. This is not a choice between the status quo and leaving. There is no status quo. A vote to remain is a vote for even more of our legislation dictated by Brussels, with a growing proportion affecting our armed forces and national security. A vote to be shackled to the slowest growing continent in the world … And to continue to be Europe’s cash cow paying £350 million a week, double the amount we get back.
A vote to leave means we can take back control of our laws. We can continue trading with Europe but engage directly with the fastest growing economies in the world outside the EU. And… crucially… we can take control of our borders.
The great in Great Britain came from seizing opportunity. We have a once in a generation opportunity to chart a new course for Britain.