The UK Government has given way to a major power-grab by the EU in defence, despite the UK public’s instruction to leave.
Proposals have been set out by the European Commission, and by the Head of the EU’s External Action Service. These concrete proposals were further added to by a highly controversial target list that came from the European Parliament, setting out their much more long term directional aspirations.
The key part of the plans, revealed in November, were largely approved by the UK Government in two stages during EU Council meetings in November and December. They cover the entire spectrum of defence policy, planning, procurement and strategy and outline ‘EU Defence Union’ and the EU’s “New Level of Ambition”.
The UK’s agreement is not merely permission for the rest of the EU to proceed, it is permission for the UK to be involved. EU Council staff state that the UK approved as a full member, there are no exemptions or caveats and the UK has “full rights and responsibilities” as a signatory. The UK now will be in a weaker state to resist the EU’s “rapidly-moving” Defence Union projects while it is still a member and will be obliged to cooperate.
Veterans for Britain are concerned that two further years of defence integration will make extrication more difficult and lengthy after the UK leaves.
It’s therefore useful for us to highlight what is in the EU’s existing plans, what else planners have been told to come back with blueprints for, and how the UK Government very quickly found itself in this mess.
The two plans are called the Security and Defence Implementation Plan (SDIP), produced by the EU’s External Action Service, and the European Defence Action Plan (EDAP), produced by the EU Commission.
The plans, comprising 18,000-words, oblige the UK to submit its ‘defence capability priorities’ towards a centralised EU priority plan, as well as to make proposals for UK intelligence services to feed into a central EU intelligence hub known as the Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity (SIAC).
The plans create the EU’s first centralised defence budget, known as the EU Defence Fund. The fund looks set to be supported by billions of euros from the European Investment Bank (EIB) which is seeing its rules rewritten by the EU in order to prioritise defence funding. The UK is joint-largest shareholder in the EIB, so this does in effect mean the EU is reassigning UK money.
The plans mandate EU states to initiate the generation and integration of EU military units by triggering PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation), a previously unused facility provided by the Lisbon Treaty.
The plans assert the EU’s distinctiveness as a military presence in its own right and its “defence decision-making autonomy from NATO”. This is all the more Incredible when you consider that the plans were created with the intention of tackling duplication, only to create it at the highest decision-making level.
The EU Defence Fund will support ‘defence capability’ projects, joint projects between member states, such as those created under PESCO. The Lisbon Treaty places such combined EU units under the “Union Framework”.
The EU Defence Fund is also designed to support defence research particularly among SME defence firms, thus creating a bribe for a broad number of UK defence organisations to be engaged or lobby the government to remain engaged in the fund.
The plans lead to the creation of a defence single market, known as EDTIB in which defence procurement will be coordinated centrally by a newly empowered and augmented European Defence Agency, where target priorities will be bartered between states. The EU clearly understands the strategic follower-leader relationship between defence supply and defence policy. The creation of EDTIB and accompanying coordination of procurement places considerable risk on the UK’s current domestic defence procurement programme. At present, the UK is ‘permitted’ to select its own domestic suppliers in eg shipbuilding and aircraft manufacture, but only because the UK may invoke the EU’s Article 346, the national security clause, to avoid other EU rules which say tendering must be done on an EU-wide basis on such contracts. The scope of Article 346 has been reduced by ECJ precedent recently and the definition of national security interests is potentially subject to amendment by the ECJ. The defence items covered by Article 346 may be amended by a unanimous decision of the EU Council at any time. If the UK adheres to this process post-Brexit, this carries considerable risk for the very existence of UK defence manufacturers, whose survival becomes an issue of negotiation not entirely dissimilar to how the Common Fisheries Policy has been run.
These complex and strategically consequential plans have been two years in the making.
It is clear that the UK should have vetoed the proposals, but there are several reasons why it didn’t, none of them especially good reasons. Ahead of SDIP’s publication, EU leaders and defence ministers lobbied the UK to drop its traditional resistance now it was leaving. Merkel, Hollande and Renzi stood on an aircraft carrier to herald the EU’s rebirth as a military power while their mandarins were cautiously working out text that would permit them all to later insist they “weren’t creating an EU Army”. The three leaders clearly saw defence plans as a comfort blanket to console themselves over the loss of the UK. EU federalist politicians declared the UK’s departure as an “opportunity for EU Defence”. The EU Parliament also published a report on EU Defence Union which called for the creation of a corps of EU military engineers and “the establishment of the European Armed Forces” (it also refers to Brexit as being merely the ‘potential’ secession of the UK.)
In all, UK politicians were bludgeoned into believing that blocking the EU’s military focus would be a spiteful act.
When SDIP was finally declassified and presented to UK ministers and other leaders at the EU Council meeting of 14 November, the UK was expected to provide a binding response within hours.
The way the EU Council gains agreement from member states is via a jointly-written set of ‘EU Council Conclusions’. These are co-authored by the 28 EU states’ leading diplomats at the EU, who are known as ‘Permanent Representatives’. The UK’s Permanent Representative was at the time Sir Ivan Rogers, a Cameron appointee who had previously been an adviser to Ken Clarke and Leon Brittan. The conclusions drafted with his 27 counterparts were in full and unequivocal agreement with the contents of SDIP.
EU Council process then requires the relevant EU official, in this case Federica Mogherini, to ask the EU Council whether they have objections to the EU Council Conclusions. If they don’t, it’s taken as agreement. The 14 November EU Council at which Mogherini’s SDIP was presented was attended by defence and foreign ministers – Sir Michael Fallon and Boris Johnson for the UK. They didn’t object and neither did the rest of the EU.
Boris Johnson later said he took the choice not to oppose because he didn’t want the UK to be “dog in the manger”, in other words stifling plans in which it would play no part. Yet the impact on the UK will be just as real.
A week after SDIP, the EU’s defence-related output was in overdrive. Brussels think-tanks were holding events, Mogherini was hosting John Kerry and the few people in the UK voicing any opinion at all were hardline EU-federalists saying the UK should join EU Defence Union as a ‘negotiating concession’.
Then along came an EU Parliament vote on 21 November about its earlier Report on the Defence Union. The vote didn’t directly endorse SDIP or have any legislative power of its own but as it contained much more candid language about military integration it acted as a kind of outrider providing political concord for the Mogherini plans. This report, by the way, gained the approval of the Lib Dems’ one MEP, three Labour MEPs and one Conservative MEP. Most Labour MEPs abstained while most Conservatives and all UKIP MEPs opposed it.
As if November wasn’t complicated enough, the EU Commission announced its own defence proposals under the European Defence Action Plan (EDAP) on 30 November. This provides the political weight to push Mogherini’s SDIP forward and introduced the budgetary components as described earlier. It also describes the legislative and political context for EDTIB, the European Defence Technology Industrial Base, also above.
On 15 December, the Prime Minister attended the EU Council where casual observers might have missed the fact that SDIP and EDAP were on the agenda at all. They appeared under the more nebulous title of ‘Security’ and the 28 Heads of Government were invited to a. endorse the defence and foreign ministers’ approval at the November EU Council b. approve EDAP and c. endorse the creation of a permanent operational planning and conduct capability at the strategic level. Leaders were also asked to give their backing to planning efforts by the EU Commission and EEAS on an augmented ‘EU rapid response toolbox’, an annual assessment of progress, Permanent Structured Cooperation and the CBSD plan (Capacity Building in support of Security and Defence), with a view to reaching agreement “in the first half of 2017”. There’s clearly far more to come in 2017 and they’re moving fast. Finally, Heads of Government were asked to endorse a separate EU-NATO agreement concerning, hybrid threats and maritime, cyber and communications issues. This gave EU officials and politicians the opportunity to mention NATO whenever they were describing SDIP and EDAP, which actually assert defence autonomy from NATO.
This 15 December EU Council meeting was a further chance to block anything the UK didn’t like, but it didn’t happen. All 28 EU member states including the UK backed the EU Council Conclusions drawn up by the 28 EU Permanent Representatives.
Just following this, it emerged that Sir Alan Duncan MP (a remainer in the referendum and now Minister of State at the Foreign Office) had informed MPs of the European Scrutiny Committee about his views on SDIP on 22 November, a week after the plan was announced and agreed at the 14 November EU Council. This is relevant because it was a rare chance for MPs to take a look at the plans.
Unfortunately, he presented an entirely favourable impression of SDIP and didn’t remotely touch on its centralising, legislating and overbearing nature or the fact that so much of what it aimed to achieve could be done via NATO. He claimed that the UK Government “agreed with much of the content” of SDIP, however he didn’t point out which parts the UK Government opposed. He also said there are “elements which will not directly affect the UK after it has left the EU” though he didn’t mention elements which will affect the UK after leaving or indeed before leaving. His unwillingness to describe which parts of this EU military power-grab he didn’t like, if any, is explained by his third major statement that there was “support from other EU states for UK engagement in EU defence policy after Brexit” and that he therefore wanted to “avoid hampering such future cooperation”.
Let’s get this straight: the Foreign Secretary gave a green light to the plans because he thought the UK wouldn’t be involved, but his deputy is advocating approval because he thinks the UK could be involved.
The European Scrutiny Committee assessed SDIP along with 12 other major pieces of EU legislation on 14 December and cleared it from further scrutiny on the basis of government information. However, the committee was wise enough to mark it as ‘Politically Important’ and has urged detailed expert assessment by the Defence Committee, the Committee on Exiting the EU and the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as SDIP’s inclusion in the general Brexit debates in the UK Parliament in the first quarter of 2017.
Let’s imagine that the Government did pursue Sir Alan Duncan’s preference for keeping the door open to “UK engagement in EU defence policy” which incidentally is a sentiment mirrored by the FCO’s statements in the Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review in December, citing the possibility of “continued UK involvement in EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)”.
What this means is that Sir Alan Duncan and various FCO civil servants actually believe that CSDP – the ongoing and gradual framing of integrative defence policy “leading to Common Defence” – is somehow compatible with the UK’s future democratic autonomy. Perhaps they don’t know what CSDP is or what Common Defence is. The EU Parliament is far less bashful about CSDP in its November Defence Union report, saying that CSDP “should lead in due time to the establishment of the European Armed Forces”.
While just of half of the UK population wanted to leave the EU, far more than half are opposed to integration of UK Armed Forces into a combined, centrally-controlled EU military effort, the type gained gradually via CSDP. Even many ardent remain advocates were opposed to crossing this ‘red line’.
In fact, the UK’s exit from the EU means exerting full democratic control over defence policy as part of NATO and other international agreements and it means not being “involved” in the defence policy of other nations or blocs, even when those nations and blocs are your closest allies. The UK doesn’t have “involvement in” US defence policy or Canadian defence policy, even though the UK cooperates closely with both via NATO.
Security is the number one task of any government and military power is the most fundamental facet of statehood. The reason the UK is leaving the EU is to assert democratic control over decision-making, so why should we be forfeiting control in this most significant of policy areas.
The most worrying aspect of all this is that the UK is fully involved in EU Defence Union plans via SDIP and EDAP for at least the duration of its membership and the speed and nature of the plans up to exit in 2019 make the UK’s extrication from EU defence much more difficult after that.
31 Oct: EU Parliament publishes its Report on Defence Union
14 Nov: EUGS SDIP is declassified and announced to EU council. Fallon and Boris at EU Council
15 Nov: UK decides not to block increase in EDA budget
21 Nov: EU Parliament passes its Report on Defence Union
22 Nov: Alan Duncan memorandum to European Scrutiny Committee explaining Government stance on SDIP
30 Nov: EDAP announced by EU Commission
14 Dec: UK MPs on the European Scrutiny Committee review SDIP and clear it from scrutiny
15 Dec: PM at EU Council approves SDIP and EDAP