The forthcoming root and branch reset of the civil service led in the Cabinet Office by Lord Agnew and Baroness Finn is greatly to be welcomed. Ministers are – and should be able to be – critically reliant on the civil service to be honest, genuinely objective, consciously subordinate and also on the ball. The politicisation of the higher civil service is one of Tony Blair’s most pernicious legacies leading to civil servants acting routinely ultra vires; and after the shocking experiences of 2016-20, a reset is very necessary because evidence shows that so many civil servants are both ideological and professional rejoiners. Veterans for Britain has warned since 2016 of specific problems of this type in respect of defence and international security and explains here why and precisely how, without active measures, the most fundamental aspects of recovered British sovereignty are still at risk of erosion by ‘alignment’ with the EU despite formal exclusion from the successful Frost/Lewis-led trade negotiation.
The General Context of the Agnew/Finn Process in the Defence & Security arenas
Six months after 23 June 2016, when the British people voted at the polls in a referendum to leave the European Union by the largest number in the history of the modern franchise – a bench-mark that is always important to recollect when discussing the Brexit ‘culture wars’ – the EU suddenly re-awakened its slumbering ambition to become a military alliance.
That ambition, expressed through the Pleven Plan of October 1950, was one of the earliest intentions of the promotors of the ‘project of union’. But upon failing to gain traction at that time, like wary but ambitious snails, they immediately pulled in their feelers and tried another route: the Coal and Steel Community as it happened. This established the precedent for what was to become the usual way of progressing the ‘project of ever closer union’ by sidling steps, taken unnoticed until they had become a fait accompli. Ever forward. Never back.
The Dutch philosopher-historian Luuk van Middelaar wrote a history of the development of the EU (The Passage to Europe: How a Continent Became a Union (Yale, 2013)) that was much praised by enthusiasts for the ‘project’. Unashamedly and correctly van Middelaar called such steps “coups”: a tactic in power politics with a pedigree in continental European history that goes back to Machiavelli. His book, and this anti-democratic political methodology, have been witheringly demolished by the Marxist theorist and historian Perry Anderson in a book-length critique of the entire EU project, of which the Cambridge historian Robert Tombs has published a succinct précis on Briefings for Britain. It is noteworthy that from 2010 until 2014, Van Middelaar worked as the chief speechwriter and an advisor to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy among whose stated views was that “Europe is over-democratised.”
As Veterans for Britain documented at the time, the November 2016 defence and security “coups” were advanced, as is usual in Brussels, under dull acronymic titles. The primary enabling documents of EU Defence Union were, as usual, administratively conceived and brought to life. They were the SDIP (Security and Defence Implementation Plan) of 14 November 2016 and the DAP (Defence Action Plan) of 30 November 2016. These two interlocking documents tie all emerging EU defence capabilities to the over-riding federal goal of EU ‘ever closer union’ and to the EU’s foreign policy objectives, many of which run contrary to Great Britain’s enduring national interests to which, since leaving the EU we have now logically returned. With characteristic élan, these interests were voiced in February 2020 by the Prime Minister in the Painted Hall of the once (and future?) Royal Naval College at Greenwich just before the pandemic closed its grip around his, and the nation’s, throat.
The Values of Global Britain – origins and evolutions
The values of ‘Global Britain’ are not new forged but long tempered by time. In essence they are the same as those which, during its three hundred year history, impelled the British Empire to lead the world in freeing slaves – latterly and in great number from Ottoman and Arab slavers and owners – for longer than the period when it enslaved them itself. The British used the Royal Navy and spent almost as much money from 1816-1842 in attempting to suppress the trans-atlantic slave trade as was earned in profits in the forty seven years before the Slave Trade Act of 1807 prohibited slavery throughout the British Empire. Those civilising as well as self-interested values were up-dated and inscribed by Eyre Crowe, the Foreign Office’s principal German specialist, in his January 1907 memorandum on the present state of British relations with France and Germany where he wrote that, “more than any other non-insular Power, [Britain] has a direct and positive interest in the maintenance of the independence of nations.” This, he observed, was best achieved by a balance of power. Britain, “therefore must be the natural enemy of any country threatening the independence of others, and the natural protector of the weaker communities” [emphasis added].
The Crowe Memorandum was map and compass to the twentieth century German Question in the same way that Foreign Secretary Castlereagh’s Great State Paper of May 1820 was lode-star to the post Napoleonic world of the nineteenth century pax britannica. Being statements of both geo-political and ethical principles, both endured for many decades and beyond their original remits. Indeed, both are relevant pilots for Global Britain in 2021.
Today the Crowe doctrine finds expression in our solidarity with the betrayed and persecuted democrats of Hong Kong, for whom we have a special responsibility to turn our strong words into passports, and in our condemnation of the genocide of the Uighurs by the same ruthlessly authoritarian Chinese regime, now unveiled. Earlier in modern times it also found expression in OP PALLISER, Mr Blair’s finest hour as Prime Minister. After an initial strategic raid in May 2000 commanded by Brigadier (later CDS) Richards, which saved Freetown, and after OP BARRAS (a Special Forces rescue operation) had dealt with the ‘West Side Boys’, from October 2000 under the command of a VfB Board Member (General Riley) the British Armed Forces rescued the people of Sierra-Leone: British soldiers who, as they eventually left Freetown and marched down to the ships, did so between lines of cheering Sierra-Leoneans, many imploring them to stay. But of course, it had its key expression in 1982 when the Chairman of VfB (Major General Thompson) commanded the Royal Marine landings on the Falkland Islands. Mrs Thatcher ordered that daring coup de main because she accepted the view of the First Sea Lord Sir Henry Leach that “… if we pussyfoot in our actions and do not achieve complete success, in another few months we shall be living in a different country whose word counts for little”. As Mrs Thatcher later observed when asked, the Falklands liberation was all about the Russians; and it can be credibly argued that the country lived safer for the rest of the first Russian Cold War on the will to deter that was banked in 1982.
As to people nearer home, Robert Tombs explains in opening the first historian’s history of Brexit, that “geography comes before history. European islands cannot have the same history as continental plains.” These principles put us in both geo-political and cultural (hence structural) opposition to, not in alignment with, the driving ambitions of the EU. Splitting the difference as Mrs May failed to do is simply not an option. These differences do not derive from mere expediency and, as Tombs lays out when we take the long view, the reasons for British discomfort during our brief short lifetime’s deviation from our historic norms, have deep roots. General de Gaulle was entirely right to veto us. What a pity that his view was overridden.
Deeds, Words and limits upon Voltaire’s Principle
That distinctly British view, just sketched above, is neither respected nor shared by the most grieving and unreconciled among the remain voters. In This Sovereign Isle, Tombs identifies several types of remainer; and it is ‘ideological remainers’ who are also ‘professional remainers’ – small in absolute number – who tend to populate the commanding heights of the British ‘establishment’ including, importantly, the Civil Service. They are people who have, in many unfortunate cases, moved on seamlessly to becoming ‘rejoiners.’ Their guiding belief about their country since the dearly-bought victory over fascism in 1945 is one of sophisticated contempt: a somehow morally deserved declinism. It is, by the way, a view that feeds unhelpfully the current plague-time cult of ‘wokery,’ where feelings matter more than facts and which revels in its menace, its many truculent ignorances (some of which we have just corrected) and its cultural vandalism.
Set aside for a moment the implied disrespect to the democratic vote of 2016, which the unreconciled remainers spent three and a half excruciating years trying to overturn by every and any legal and parliamentary device that they could devise as Robert Tombs gently documents in This Sovereign Isle: “…new attempts to seize control of government policy in a way not seen since the English Civil War – tragedy repeating itself as farce.” The beliefs of ‘declinists’ could be tolerated, groundless as we believe it to be, if their opinions lived and died in words only.
It is when expressed words come from the lips of those who wield the power to turn them into deeds that we suspend Voltaire’s principle (“ I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”). “Deeds not Words” is the wheelhouse motto of HMS Gannet, now exhibited at Chatham Historic Dockyard. She is the last extant preserved small Victorian warship that participated in anti-slavery patrols. Her motto is a description of the 130 year mission of R2P ‘the Responsibility to Protect’ as we would call it today, that is one of the Royal Navy’s battle honours and the credo of the later British Empire and, by extension, today’s Commonwealth. But in different circumstances such as where we find ourselves, it is also a warning.
Veterans for Britain came into being because of a duty to advise, to warn and to inform. Throughout the tortured process of extricating the United Kingdom from the EU, VfB has researched and documented the instances, the processes and the people through which an alliance of the EU with influential unreconciled British remainer/rejoiners in positions of power have together attempted to keep UK defence and security aligned with and subordinate to the emerging EU Defence Union. VfB stands on its record against repeated official assurances that we were worrying unnecessarily. Events have proved us right.
Throughout the premiership of Mrs May, a complex web was woven linking any one subscription to general subordination that patently sought to keep a sovereign Great Britain in semi-colonial vassalage, aligned to and answering to EU rules and to its ‘Global Strategy’. There were harrowing points of time at which it seemed that this ploy would succeed. But with the coming of a fresh administration with a clear will and strong electoral mandate, it finally failed as a formal strategy. To the visible ire of Michel Barnier, Lord Frost refused to allow any discussion of defence and international security at all in the exit negotiations. With the benefit of a little distance, only the imperial pretensions of the ‘project’ can explain why the EU side thought it remotely appropriate to try to sweep such fundamental sovereign matters into a trade negotiation.
Unfortunately, the achievement of the Christmas Eve Treaty and the final exit on New Year’s Day does not mean that the ambitious snails have given up. It is already clear that rejoiners in the Civil Service feel no compunction about advocating steps that will lead to alignment with the EU wherever possible. Such internalised politicisation of a once great Service is one of the worst of Mr Blair’s many acts of reckless constitutional vandalism. Therefore VfB welcomes both the Treasury-led ‘Project Bleach’ to expunge EU laws from our statute book and Lord Agnew’s and Baroness Finn’s initiative similarly to realign the civil service to British priorities before all others. In the Defence and international security field we might believe that we are protected from such sabotage of sovereignty. But we would be wrong. Let us deal in specifics.
UK MoD: VfB’s advice and warnings
In the past, Veterans for Britain has had occasion to remark on the expressed views and roles of one modern civil servant, Mr Angus Lapsley, and is obliged to do so again. We focus upon Mr Lapsley as an example in a category of officials because of his current power as well as the detailed record of his opinions. Today Mr Lapsley is the Director General (Strategy & International) at the Ministry of Defence. The Director General Strategy & International (so the MoD states) “is responsible for defence policy on NATO and the Euro-Atlantic area, the defence implications of exiting the European Union [emphasis added] and our key bilateral defence relationships as well as strategic planning and strategic policy matters (eg nuclear deterrence, cyber, space, exports)”. In this powerful position his words can swiftly become deeds.
In early 2015, when the debate about Britain and the EU was reaching fever pitch in the UK, Mr Lapsley was hosted by the EU-phile European Council for Foreign Relations at a seminar curiously entitled ‘The Incurable European: the UK and Europe’s Foreign Policy’.
Mr Lapsley was interviewed and the record shows the following remarks:
“There’s always opportunities to get stuck in and try and make sure that we are shaping policy in Europe and making sure that Europe is thinking not just about the crisis of the moment but also the crises that might be coming up and the rewriting of a security strategy in 2015: I think that is a good opportunity for the (European) External Action Service and Federica Mogherini to set out that agenda and I think that’s something that we will certainly want to get closely involved in.” [emphasis added]
That security strategy is now known as the EU Global Strategy.
Among significant postings in Brussels Mr Lapsley served as Councillor and Head of CFSP (Common Foreign & Security Policy), CSDP (Common Security & Defence Policy) and EU Enlargement before the vote to leave.
Before and then after the vote but before our final exit, from March 2015 to September 2017, he served as the UK Political & Security Ambassador sitting on the EU Political & Security Committee. Here, he had an active hand in forming advice which led to UK ministers endorsing the EU “Global Strategy”, to which he referred both in his 2015 ECFR interview before the referendum vote and after it, at the Alpsbach Forum (see below). Indeed, on the crucial day of the European Council which adopted the Global Strategy and specifically the SDIP (14 November 2016), Mr Lapsley was the leading adviser on this topic to Mr Johnson as Foreign Secretary.
Thereafter, for a crucial two years from 2017 until 2019 during the three and a half years of attempted constitutional coup d’état described earlier, Mr Lapsley was Director for Defence, International Security and South East Europe at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). Here his FCO defence responsibility oversaw the work of his FCO colleagues in the Euro-Atlantic Security Policy Unit which handled the UK Government’s response to EU defence developments. Soon after ministers, advised by the EASP and Mr Lapsley, had as a matter of fact, placed parts of the new EU defence architecture into the UK’s proposed future partnership deal, Mr Lapsley moved again to his current very senior role at the MoD.
We know far more than is proper about Mr Lapsley’s personal views from words and deeds. From his public utterances it would seem that Mr Lapsley sincerely and deeply regrets the peoples’ decision to leave the EU.
We know that his fellow ambassadors ‘stood with him’ on 24th June 2016, after the Leave vote had just happened; and then, on his own admission to his fellow Ambassadors eight weeks later, at the 2016 European Forum Alpsbach (28th August), a convivial gathering for busy diplomats, in an open source recording published by the Alpsbach Forum, he observed with self-deprecating humour and to consoling giggles from the audience that he did not understand the referendum result (“honestly, ich verstehe nicht”). He thought it was possibly due to a crisis in social democracy. But then, immediately, he assured his colleagues firmly that “interestingly” Brexit was not caused by foreign policy. He declared in the same remarks that EU foreign policy has always been “relatively popular” in the UK and that “we rather like the security strategy. We rather like the Global Strategy… we were part of the member states who helped shape it. We think it’s a good strategy.” It is the repeated royal first person plural that troubles VfB.
In earlier times, serving ambassadors would never have spoken in such terms about a settled democratic decision of such importance for the obvious reason that it constrains and limits their utility to their masters. We will return to this point.
In the recorded remarks to his fellow EU Ambassadors, as mentioned, he opined that “we rather like the Global Strategy” and explained why, at some length. He has also ‘tweeted’ that ‘The [EU] Commission is needed if we are to respond to modern threats to Europe.’ and again: ‘defence is no longer a member state preserve in the EU.’ If these are his opinions, implying approval, and not only a statement of fact, then they ride most uneasily with his current powers. Mr Lapsley has also stated on the record, this time at a RUSI event, that ‘No 10 does not want an institutional arrangement on defence, but we might need some legal agreements.’ That pronoun again.
In respect of this last opinion, we are concerned by an exchange on ‘Twitter’ with a researcher from one of the EU’s principal cheer-leaders, the European Council on Foreign Relations. VfB warned strongly about what Ms Ulrike Franke describes at the ‘love letter’ at the time and we are interested to see it so described by a strong proponent of the EU Defence Union.
A return to EU Battlegroups (and therefore to going back under the control of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy) is something no minister was instructing or even saying publicly at that time. We note with concern that Lapsley’s stated explanation is of practical not of principled reasons. So VfB must wonder if the Secretary of State agreed with Lapsley’s views expressed in this ‘tweet’ and if so, why?
Since Lord Frost’s blunt refusal to allow defence to become entangled in the withdrawal agreement, a principal tactic of the ambitious snails has been to entice the UK into the European Defence Fund which, VfB’s analysis has concluded, would open the way for EU hooks to be inserted elsewhere into UK defence.
The last-minute insertion of the European Defence Fund into HORIZON EUROPE is a particular threat and VfB is not reassured by official assurances that the UK can ‘cherry-pick’ within HORIZON EUROPE. We do not believe that this is correct. We believe that in another 2018 ‘tweet’ Mr Lapsley is correct that the UK (ie Ministers acting on the advice of officials) did not oppose the EDF and incorrect in the conjoined opinion. The phrase “if done well” begs all the important questions about the EDF.
The T&CA (Trade and Co-operation Agreement: the ‘Christmas Eve’ deal) contains annexes which state ‘agreement in principle’ about the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe ‘in all parts’ (sic); and one of the two principal strands of Horizon Europe is now the European Defence Fund as a result of the EU Council’s last-minute insertion of it. Ms Franke published a representative description of this lure in December 2020 and in 2021 she is an invited speaker at the British Army’s ‘Think Tank’.
What precisely is the nature of the risk here? Even if ministers are disinclined to participate, the T&CA wording keeps the door open for rejoiner officials. A pro-actively pro-EU Whitehall can easily create a precedent-based case for ‘alignment’ to support participation in the European Defence Fund, and is doing so. The democratic demerits of participation do not appear.
However, these demerits can be found in the EU’s rulebooks for ‘third country participation.’ These rules would commit the UK to complex political impositions; and they were published just days before the deal was signed when perhaps their full implications were not appreciated in the heat of the moment by lawyers advising the British negotiators. In fact, several other EU rulebooks relevant to UK participation in EU programmes were also published just days ahead of the deal, including those governing third-country involvement in the EU’s Copernicus space programme, which also has a military element. A stable full of Trojan Horses, in fact.
The EU had a track record of such underhand conduct during the final negotiations. For example, a trap using the Channel Tunnel was neutralised only when a patriotic anonymous civil servant exposed it. Although the EU has blinked and surrendered in principle to all British demands for untrammelled sovereignty in the T&CA, it does not mean that hostile attempts to damage this country and to erode the opportunities of Brexit have ceased. The new EU tactic named ‘Gibraltarisation’ has been described by a different anonymous author (‘Titus’), who is a lawyer working in the public sector. It describes real actions already occurring at EU-facing British ports. Deeds not words.
However, we may safely infer that if senior officials who are ideological and/or professional rejoiners regret the decision to leave, they will not recognise, warn or advise Ministers on such real and present dangers. They will see it as their duty to entertain what they will see as damage limitation steps to maintain the closest ‘alignment’ to the EU as substitute for the lost status of membership. Lapsley’s words: “we’d like to start negotiations on a future arrangement for co-operation on defence” need to be considered in this context. On whose authority is such a comment made? Not in our name. What does the Secretary of State say to this? Frankly, it is not the place of any senior official to make the sort of highly political statements and implied commitments of HMG that Mr Lapsley has made. So what is to be done?
What is to be done? VfB’s recommendations to the Agnew/Finn process
VfB’s view is that on the one hand it is not fair to Mr Lapsley, or to others who are like-minded. Another such, for example, is Dr Bryan Wells. VfB has also examined closely his words and deeds on the continent and in Whitehall. Doubtless, upon investigation in the Agnew/Finn process, other senior British civilians in the MoD and (as in Dr Wells’ case now in a pivotal position in NATO) in international organisations, will be identified.
It is unfair to leave such persons in posts where their sincerely and evidently deeply held beliefs might lead them to initiate deeds that could influence national or Alliance actions in ways that do not align with the values and interests of Global Britain.
Mr Lapsley started his civil service career in the department of health; and the logical step that the Agnew/Finn process should consider as it begins to repair the damage done to the civil service by Blair, is creative redeployment of senior officials such as Mr Lapsley into areas where their skills can be employed without risk that their deeply held beliefs might conflict with actions which global Britain requires and of which they do not approve, as we have illustrated here.
For on the other hand, there is an issue of fundamental democratic principle. If the immense opportunities that our regained sovereignty outside the force-fields of the EU will afford can be serially hobbled by officials who are emotionally heavily invested in the world that has passed, it is simply not fair to the long-suffering majority.
In the event of a conflict between the will of the majority and the will of senior officials, necessarily the needs of the majority must prevail and elected representatives, our obedient servants, must curb their officials and make it so.
We end with a word of advice to Lord Agnew and Baroness Finn. Let us not repeat the mistake that recently occurred in the USA during a similar exercise to theirs. The legislation drafted in the USA had unintended perverse effect in that it allowed disobliging senior levels in the bureaucracy to penalise whistle-blowers. Therefore let them ensure that their process is firmly zeroed onto senior executive levels in the first instance. For as the saying goes, a fish rots from the head.