Senior military officers speak out about the dangers of remaining in the EU

A group of retired senior military officers have spoken about why they are backing Veterans for Britain, a campaign for a leave vote in the EU referendum aimed at serving and former military personnel. The retired Generals and Admirals have set out their views in a series of personal statements about the EU, defence and UK sovereignty.

The group have served in every one of Britain’s wars since Korea and at the highest levels of the British armed forces during the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Falklands. The statements have been released as Veterans for Britain (VfB) publishes a leaflet arguing why serving personnel and veterans should Vote Leave on 23 June.

Some of the key themes of the statements and the VfB leaflet are that:

  • EU law is undermining the UK’s combat effectiveness

  • NATO is responsible for peace across Europe but moves to create an EU army are undermining NATO

  • Outside the EU, we will retain close military ties with European countries and our intelligence partners

  • Voting ‘In’ will keep power in the hands of people who we did not elect, who we cannot throw out and who dictate many of the laws which govern us

The retired senior military officers include:

  • Maj-Gen Julian Thompson CB, OBE

  • General Sir Michael Rose KCB CBE DSO, QGM

  • Lt-Gen Jonathon Riley CB DSO

  • Maj-Gen Tim Cross CBE

  • Maj-Gen Nick Vaux CB, DSO

  • Maj-Gen Malcolm Hunt OBE

  • Rear Admiral Roger Lane-Nott CB

  • Rear Admiral Conrad Jenkin CB

  • Rear Admiral Richard Heaslip CB

  • Commodore Mike Clapp CB

The statements in full:

Maj-Gen Julian Thompson CB, OBE

Commander, 3 Commando Brigade, Falklands War

Message to UK Veterans:

“The result of this referendum will determine irrevocably what kind of country we, our children and our grandchildren will live in. Either Great Britain will remain in the EU, dominated by people who we do not elect, who we cannot throw out and who dictate many of the laws which govern us, or we will take back control and return to what we were: an independent country in which our Parliament is elected by us, and answerable to us as the lawmaker.

You have served our Queen and country campaigning in wars and conflicts in many places; including putting your life on the line. By joining Veterans for Britain, you show that you serve our country still and defend its future.”

General Sir Michael Rose KCB CBE DSO, QGM

Commanding Officer Special Air Service Regiment

Commander UK Field Army

Commander UNPROFOR Bosnia

“Sovereignty and defence are indivisible. First, European law, in my view, has already seriously undermined UK’s combat effectiveness as a result of the intrusion of European law into national law, and today, our service men and women are in danger of becoming no more than civilians in uniform. Yet, it clearly takes an entirely different set of disciplines to prepare soldiers sailors and airmen for war from those that exist in the civilian work environment, and if the necessary psychologies and disciplines cannot be developed in training during peacetime, then it is unlikely that our people will rise to the uncompromising demands of the battlefield in time of war.  Second, I believe that the UK’s contribution to European defence can manifestly be better made solely through NATO than by trying to spread our limited resources too thinly, in order to include European Defence and Security Policy initiatives into UK’s defence programme. Third, it is something of an insult to our European partners, in particular France and Germany, to imply that UK membership of the European Union is necessary to secure future peace in Europe. As part of strong alliances with other nations from outside Europe, Britain twice in the last century has helped bring peace and order to Europe, and I am confident that we could do so again, either within Europe or elsewhere in the world, if the need should ever arise.”

Lt-Gen Jonathon Riley

Deputy Commander of NATO Forces, Afghanistan (2007-2009)

“Every one of us [members of the Armed Forces] has the same rights in the debate over our membership of the EU; it is not a party political issue, it is an issue about the future of our country. Those of us who wear, or have worn, uniform have just the same rights as all other citizens to express our views on this matter. We have, after all, served our country in harm’s way and there are all too many of our comrades out there with the wounds to show for it.

The bedrock of our conventional security has, since 1948, been NATO and it is NATO that has kept peace in Europe since then. NATO in turn is vitally dependent on the full participation of the USA. In my view, anything that weakens that alliance will diminish our security. The attempts by the EU to set up its own operations, security structures and even armed forces takes resources away from the one organisation that really protects us. And could the EU have mounted an operation on the scale of the NATO interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya? I think not. We should also bear in mind that security, whether conventional or unconventional, is founded on intelligence. Our best intelligence networks are those that involve the USA and other partners around the globe – Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There is no evidence that I have seen that the EU can better these networks, nor that EU countries are prepared to share intelligence with us to the degree that the ABCA partners have consistently done.

The ultimate ambition of the EU is undoubtedly EU Armed Forces. When we all took our oath of allegiance, we swore loyalty to our Queen. The Queen delegates authority for the control of the armed forces to her ministers who in turn are elected and if things go wrong, we can all hold them to account. Who would control the EU armed forces? The EU Commission? Can we call them to account? Can we seriously believe that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines should be sent into danger by a body over which we have no control, and which answers to none of us. When Cameron wanted to bomb Iraq and then Syria, he had to win the argument and stand the consequences. Think about that in the context of the EU Commission having the powers that our ministers now hold.”

Maj-Gen Tim Cross CBE

Commander of UK Forces, Iraq

“Our history and our trading links give us global interests, global links and friends on every continent. We do not need to subcontract our future to an organisation constantly juggling the views of 28 countries whilst moving inexorably towards full political union and all that comes with it: unified armed forces, unified systems of justice, unified monetary and economic policies. I for one cannot accept that there is no option but to accept such a future. Rather we must move forwards, working alongside our friends and allies in Europe and elsewhere, sharing our expertise and capabilities freely and openly and unconstrained in who we work with and how we express our national interests and values – values admired by millions around the world.”

Maj-Gen Nick Vaux CB, DSO

Commander 42 Commando, Falklands War

Major General, Commando Forces

“Inexorable political integration is a daunting enough prospect but to commit our armed forces into a European Army would be utterly reckless and the surrender of our national security.”

Maj-Gen Malcolm Hunt OBE

Commander 40 Commando, Falklands War

“If the EU was up for a job interview involving foreign policy and defence, they wouldn’t get the job, because their track record when faced with security crises such as the Balkans between 1991 and 2013, and the present mass immigration cataclysm shows that the EU is not fit for purpose.”

Rear Admiral Roger Lane-Nott CB

Commanding Officer, HMS Splendid, Falklands War

Flag Officer Submarines

NATO Commander Submarines Eastern Atlantic

“I spent 32 years in the Royal Navy mainly in nuclear submarines and was a former UK Flag Officer Submarines and NATO Commander Submarines Eastern Atlantic. Many reasons have been put forward to justify why the UK should leave the European Union. My belief in why this is best for the UK is as follows:

The NATO alliance is arguably the most critical corner stone supporting stability on the continent that is home to the world’s largest integrated economy — and, incidentally, on the continent that has in the past century or so spawned the world’s most destructive conflicts.

Germany is pushing hard for the creation of a European army — its defence white paper points towards an inexorable merger of national defence forces. This is an inevitable result of the EU’s pursuit of ever-closer union, and is a project championed by Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s unelected President.

Few European countries take defence seriously, with Britain one of only four European members (UK, Poland, Estonia, and Greece) that meet the NATO spending requirement of 2 per cent of GDP. The peace that NATO has facilitated has allowed our European allies to focus resources toward rebuilding the continent from the ravages of WWII. Europe rose from the ashes of destruction to now boast the highest gross domestic product of any continent.

An additional key contribution is NATO’s role in facilitating the peaceful transition of former Warsaw Pact countries from autocracies to thriving democracies. On the map of Europe today, recently democratic nations have far greater stability and prosperity if they are NATO members. The expense in assisting these allies to develop vibrant democracies and civil societies pales in comparison with the costs of turmoil and civil war.

I do not believe the UK people want an EU Army or EU Navy and any attempt to do so would be met with huge opposition in UK.

After I left the service I spent a considerable amount of time working for the farm equipment manufacturers in the European Commission. It is an unelected out of control organisation that is autocratic and does not listen. It continues to make rules ignoring most compelling arguments why they should not.

When you add all the other reasons – sovereignty, supremacy of the UK Parliament and the Supreme Court, immigration, control of our borders and the ability to trade freely on a global basis then the argument is very clear. We must Vote Leave on 23 June!”

Rear Admiral Richard Heaslip CB

Flag Officer Submarines

NATO Commander Submarines Eastern Atlantic

“The more developed European nations are free from the threat of land invasion for the first time in recorded history. Defence is a low priority for them. All their attention is now focussed on defending their borders from a different threat – that of immigration.

Since its inception the EU has shown minimal interest in defence. With the exception of France, none of them can be said to have anything approaching an up to date all round military capability. If the subject comes up, it is to NATO that the EU turns to for help.

The claim that the existence of the EU has saved us from war for 70 years is a myth. Their military capabilities have been allowed to wither for so long that they are in no condition to deter let alone to fight. It is NATO that has kept the peace, NATO that has maintained a cohesive command structure, NATO that has up to date intelligence and plans, and NATO that has a force structure to carry them out.

Moreover the concept of “savings” from pooled EU defence procurement has a sorry history. Destroyers that were expensively overdesigned to meet each country’s pet needs and then only the UK ends up buying them; fighter aircraft purchased in massive numbers to satisfy EU agendas; the list goes on.

Britain, although no longer a world power in the same sense as the US or China, is still very much a power that is in the world. Our interests, commerce and connections are still very much worldwide.  We need the ability from time to time to help with problems far from home. Among the EU states only France is also in this category, although not quite to the same extent.

In this regard we are fortunate to have our own decision making structure – heaven help us if we had to get EU blessing to respond to emergencies elsewhere in the world.

Sadly, although we have spent somewhat more than other EU countries, we have neglected our own defence capability in recent years. Our forces have been run down to the point where we can no longer know who is in our own waters, let alone deploy a small but balanced force for international peace keeping.

After the scrapping of the versatile Nimrod aircraft we can no longer know who is in our own water space. Should something need attention around our island we no longer have enough destroyers and submarines to deal with it.  And playing our part internationally for the Security Council is scarcely possible without an aircraft carrier, the delayed procurement of which has been a sorry tale of political shenanigans and incompetence.

Defence needs more Government attention than it has had over the last decade or so, and the very last thing we need is to merge our defence with the EU.  NATO has a highly experienced decision making structure backed by good intelligence and operating 24 hours a day, and no conceivable EU defence structure could begin to compare with it.”

Rear Admiral Conrad Jenkin

Commanding Officer HMS Hermes

Flag Officer, 1st Flotilla

“For many years, as you all know, NATO has been the bedrock of our security and if you think that that world has gone away and that ISIS and terrorism is now the only threat we face, go ask the Ukrainians, the Baltic States and Poland.

When considering the twin matters of the EU and Britain’s security, there are two questions you might like to ask yourself. First, which organisation is more likely to put a brake on Mr Putin’s expansionist ambitions, the EU or NATO? And second, whose reactions after the Russian interference in Ukraine are likely to be the most effective in the long run, the EU’s, past masters in huffing and puffing, or NATO’s, which quickly sent confidence-giving forces to the Baltic States?

The EU was never intended to be a defence organisation and despite the ambitions of some of the bureaucrats in Brussels, is never likely to be, not least because some of its members have greatly differing views on defence. The EU is constantly trying to persuade us to give up our seat on the Security Council, a move which would most surely not help in our security, and with its enthusiasm for a European army (a truly hopeless quest) wastes our time and takes our eyes off what really matters. To have this European army would also require the EU to vastly increase its budget for which you and I would have to pay.

Some people in the Remain camp would like us to believe that all cooperation in the anti-terrorist and intelligence fields would cease if we were to Brexit. This is arrant nonsense as Britain’s input to both these areas of operations is absolutely central to its success and no other member of the EU is going to deny itself that input. Why would they?

Britain, out of the EU, will be better able to concentrate on its defence and together with all its allies in a reinvigorated NATO, will be better able to contribute to the security of the western world.”

Commodore Mike Clapp CB

Commander, Amphibious Task Force, Falklands War

“The idea of yet another European military organisation is madness. It weakens deterrence, so it is dangerous too.”


For more information, please contact David Banks (VfB) on 07512400122 or Robert Oxley (Vote Leave) on 07544 933 215

Notes to Editors

Veterans for Britain will launch the leaflet on Wednesday morning at 1100 Union Jack Club, Sandell Street, London SE1 8UJ.

Speaking at the event are:

Maj-Gen Julian Thompson CB, OBE – Commander, 3 Commando Brigade, Falklands War

Maj-Gen Tim Cross CBE – Commander of UK Forces, Iraq

Colonel Richard Kemp CBE – Former Infantry commander, Head of the International Terrorism Intelligence Team at the Cabinet Office and Chairman of the COBRA Intelligence Group

Veterans for Britain mission statement:

Veterans for Britain is a group of former service personnel from across all three services. We are proud of our nation, our Armed Forces and our service within them. We are motivated to make these points in reply to discussions about the forthcoming EU referendum.

We reject completely the notion that departing from the European Union would have a negative effect on the UK’s defence and security.

The UK’s role in the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) for more than 65 years has been the cornerstone of the country’s international defence cooperation and has maintained peace for the UK, Europe and further afield during that time. Outside of the EU, the UK would continue to work closely with its NATO partners, including those in Europe and the six non-NATO nations in the EU. The UK would also continue to cooperate on joint anti-piracy and counter terrorism activities.

Scares that are being disseminated as part of the EU referendum debate and which relate to departing from the EU are wholly unjustifiable. It is disappointing to see the UK’s defence arrangements and international cooperation mischaracterised so clumsily for the sake of a political endeavour, namely the transitional European Union project.

The UK Armed Forces perform a distinctive role in underpinning the relationship between the people and UK Head of State and elected government and we are concerned that this role and this relationship would be muddied by the increasing role of the EU of UK life, including its powers in areas of defence. The loyalty of serving forces, new recruits and former personnel is towards the Monarch and, via the Monarch, the Nation and the British People.

The UK and its Armed Forces would be freer, more effective, more democratic and more able to retain their distinctive capabilities and ethos if they were without the impositions being applied by the EU in defence command, defence structures, operations, procurement, intelligence and the development of new technology.

We believe it is essential to maintain and where necessary re-establish the United Kingdom’s autonomy in defence in the context of its pre-existing alliances and to ensure it is directly and solely accountable to the UK Parliament.