We answer pro-EU MPs’ ‘Brexit for Defence’ questions

Pro-EU Labour politicians have sent 170 ‘Brexit questions’ to the government ahead of an Opposition Day debate in Parliament.

The questions, from shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry and shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, include seven on the subject of foreign and defence policy.

Although they are addressed to Brexit Minister David Davis, Veterans for Britain has helpfully answered these seven questions in order to assist public debate and awareness (see answers below, number 84 – 90 as they appear in the full list).

By answering the questions, Veterans for Britain aims to clear up some of the many misunderstandings about defence in the EU context.

Veterans for Britain, chaired by Major General Julian Thompson, campaigned prominently for a Leave vote in the Referendum and are committed to ensuring that ‘Brexit means Brexit in defence’ due to concern over the EU’s current defence arrangements and military ambitions.

(The full list of the pro-EU MPs’ questions can be seen here: http://labourlist.org/2016/10/labours-170-questions-for-david-davis-on-brexit/ )


Foreign and Defence Policy

  1. How does the government intend to maintain the UK’s influence in the development of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) after Britain leaves the European Union?

When the UK leaves the EU it will be free to pursue mutually beneficial cooperation with the EU but will be free from obligations placed on the UK in the realm of CFSP which were not the express choice of the UK Parliament.

  1. If the UK will have no influence on CFSP post-Brexit, what assessment has the government made of the impact this will have on the UK’s broader influence throughout the world and the government’s ability to pursue its foreign policy objectives?

The UK is a leading soft power and a leading diplomatic power. The UK’s military capability and ability to project, enforce and protect around the world is a key part of its diplomatic underpinning. An independent UK’s ability to find common ground with the EU and cooperate on matters of mutual interest in the future is enhanced by the UK Government’s ability to operate through its global diplomatic network. Because the EU has embarked on a path towards amalgamated foreign and defence representation, UK capabilities are more clearly accountable to the UK electorate and more closely aligned with their interests. Because the EU member states are for the time being in a position of flux until such time as they are fully amalgamated and aligned in foreign and defence policy, the UK will enjoy certainty and stability in those areas and the liberty of greater choice. Once UK choice has been established in topics of foreign and defence policy, its position will have greater influence on the EU than if the UK had been a member state – evidence the habit of UK governments to accede to EU Commission requests on foreign and defence policy as ‘concessionary’ measures, eg Lisbon Treaty signing, Blair surrender of veto on foreign and defence policy in 2000.

  1. How does the government intend to maintain the UK’s participation in joint operations and initiatives taking place under the umbrella of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) after Britain leaves the European Union?

All UK military arrangements with other EU member states are at risk of being considered to be under the auspices of the CSDP according to the Lisbon Treaty to which the UK is still signatory. However, previous UK Governments in the EU era have asserted the belief that some of these arrangements eg CJEF (Common Joint Expeditionary Force) with France is outside CSDP’s remit.

The UK does however conduct many of its defence relationships with EU member states in a manner that is distinct from the UK’s membership of the EU. Where the UK operates within EU operations, it often takes a leading position, eg EUNAVFOR where UK personnel, assets and intelligence are all central to the operation. The UK outside of the EU can be expected to maintain valuable partnerships in the many areas in which the UK and EU have mutual interest such as anti-piracy, relief operations, peace-keeping and the protection of human rights. The UK’s deep involvement in EUNAVFOR would be commuted to an honest and transparent representation of the project as a partnership between the Royal Navy and the naval forces of EU member states.

  1. Does the government believe it will still be possible for the UK to retain a leadership role on joint CFSP operations (such as Operation Atalanta against piracy off the Horn of Africa), even after leaving the European Union?

Operation Atalanta has a high level of dependence on the UK’s military assets, bases, personnel, intelligence, diplomatic relationships and diplomatic assets. For that reason, the UK and EU’s determination to continue Operation Atalanta would in future reflect the ethos of partnership between the UK and EU as opposed to integration under the EU banner. The UK and EU have mutual interest in continuing the aims of Operation Atalanta to prevent piracy and armed robbery off the Somali Coast. As the UK will no longer be a member of the EU, the command chain of Operation Atalanta may be expected to reflect partnership and cooperation as opposed to integration.

  1. Will the UK be obliged to leave the European Defence Agency after leaving the European Union, and if so, what plans does the government have to negotiate an agreement with the EDA enabling the UK to continue participating in its research and technology projects?

The stated role of the European Defence Agency is to initiate integration and pooling in defence in order for the EU to ultimately be a security provider. The EDA is designated to conduct this role in line with Common Security and Defence Policy.

UK defence research expenditure is about £1.8 billion per year (£1,800,000,000), largely by the business sector (about 89%) rather than government sector. The EDA has a staff of 126 and a budget of £27 million (£27,000,000), of which the UK is the second highest contributor, supporting more than 10% of the EDA’s budget.

The UK is the most sophisticated defence research power in Europe, has the highest level of defence research related exports of EU member states. The UK also has the largest defence budget among current EU members. The UK’s status as a leading defence research power cannot in any way be attributed to membership of the European Defence Agency. The UK’s leading defence research capabilities are attributable to its history of commercial defence research, military spending and scientific excellence.

Concerns have been raised in the UK Parliament about the potential for the EDA to encroach on the security and integrity of the UK’s defence research. MPs have accused the EDA of overstepping prescribed lines in the conduct of defence research.

The Conservative Party was elected in 2010 on a mandate to withdraw from the EDA due to concerns over the EDA’s mission to pursue defence integration via CSDP. After identifying deficiencies, the Cameron Government did not fulfil its initial intention to withdraw.

  1. What assessment has the government made of the risks that, without the UK’s restraining influence, measures that we have long opposed at EU level – such as the establishment of an EU army – are more likely to come to fruition, and how does the government intend to deal with such risks in future?

The EU has already charted a course towards full defence amalgamation, which exists in the words of the Lisbon Treaty 2009, even while the UK was a member. UK politicians and the UK political appetite were unable to prevent such objectives from being framed at this time and indeed many UK politicians participated in the planning as a means to gaining concessions in other areas.

The task of EU federalist politicians and EU Commissioners since then has been to achieve incremental integration of defence to minimise opposition. The project of military integration is now arguably in its 18th year of operation since it was first tabled at the Helsinki European Council meeting in 1999.

Even with the UK still as a member, the EU Council, Commission and several member states are actively seeking agreement for further integration.

With all that in mind, it is and was demonstrably not possible for the UK instinct towards defence autonomy to exist within the EU context. The UK’s only remaining veto in defence was in the area of final ‘defence union’, which describes the moment where responsibility and command over military forces is entirely, permanently and inextricably switched to the EU Commission and EU Council. 

  1. Does the government intend to negotiate continued involvement for the UK in the work and future missions of the European Space Agency, even after Britain leaves the European Union, potentially through securing Associate Member status, similar to Canada’s?

The European Space Agency is not an agency of the European Union and is instead an intergovernmental body. It is primarily funded through annual contributions from national governments. Several of their members are non-EU countries. The UK’s membership of the ESA will remain unchanged after the UK’s departure from the EU.