Maj-Gen Julian Thompson highlighted the dangers of UK involvement in EU Defence Union in a speech to the Veterans for Britain-Bruges Group event at the fringes of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, 2 October 2017.
He also mentioned the effects on NATO and how MPs had been bypassed. He also described how the EU’s latest military schemes, which the UK has joined since November 2016, are more advanced than most UK commentators realise:
“I am not sure why we are here, by ‘we’ I mean VfB. As you may be wondering if I have taken leave of my senses, let me explain.
I thought that after the Referendum the decision had been made.
Indeed the PM said: ‘Brexit means Brexit’. As you would expect, I am not going to talk about the ‘foot dragging’ and dithering over the Single Market and Customs Union, but to focus on Defence. We Brexiteers, or ‘Headbangers’ as Mr Parris referred to us in the Spectator recently, are often accused of not knowing what we voted for in the Referendum. I speak for myself, and many VfB members when I say, I know exactly what I voted for which is this: when our young men and women are sent into harm’s way, they should be sent by politicians who are accountable to us, and can, if necessary, be removed at an election; they should not be sent by unelected oligarchs; Juncker and Co.
Among the many ‘porkie-pies’ peddled by the ‘Remoaners’ before the referendum, was that there were no plans for a European army. Meanwhile, we in VfB were well aware of a paper in the MoD written by the French and the Germans setting out just such a plan – we had seen it. And of course we now hear Messrs Macron and Juncker talking about just such a thing. There is a plan, and there has always been the intention for such a thing, it is called the European Defence Union – the EDU, and progress towards implementing it has accelerated since the Brexit vote.
For example what the Times described as a ‘proposal’ to create a command and control centre has been a reality for several months. And the UK is going along with it. It is difficult from the outside to understand why. Perhaps policy confusion; a peculiar unwillingness to veto bad ideas by a leaving country; poor management and other reasons may have contributed. One also suspects though that it is because Whitehall has not quite grasped the detail of what it has been signing up to. Perhaps they are suffering from what one of my sgt majors called the NAAFI syndrome – No Ambitiion and F- all Interest.
Ms Mogherini’s Security and Defence Action Plan and Mr Juncker’s European Defence Action Plan, plus other agreements, have unwisely already been given UK consent while the UK still has full legal obligation and expectation to participate. Indeed, since November 2016, within a year of the Brexit vote, the UK’s defence relationship has become a labyrinth from which we must work hard to escape. All this has come to pass without oversight by MPs, but rather confined to the elaborate technical workings of ministerial meetings at the EU Council. They are nonetheless binding until the UK leaves and potentially for the duration of a transition deal. Financial and industrial arrangements made unwisely in the same period make the UK commitment even more binding than that.
Along with this goes the inability of the UK, or anyone else, to change what the ‘oligarchs’ of the EU deem necessary. The well-worn cry that it is ‘only possible to make changes by belonging to the club’ – how often have we heard that not just in the context of defence – is, as usual, proving to be a delusion. Mogherini, Juncker, and their like will forge ahead whatever the UK says.
In this way, the defence of Europe is likely to be weakened by the Europeans themselves, specifically if members of the EU, as part of their aim of achieving an ever closure Union, succeed in their declared goal of setting up a EU defence structure outside NATO. The damage could extend to persuading Trump and isolationists in the USA that the Europeans are no longer committed to NATO membership. They could argue that the Europeans are prepared to fund the setting up of a EU defence structure, while jibbing at paying a paltry two percent of GDP on defence as members of NATO. Furthermore, the argument runs, in that case, why should America continue to provide such a disproportionate percent of the funding for the Alliance and support it with its nuclear arsenal? Without US nuclear and conventional power, Sir Malcolm’s fears that the EU could be blackmailed by Russia could well be realised.
The danger inherent in a EU defence structure outside NATO lies in it being so manifestly weak, that this in itself might persuade the Russians to test its resolve. In which case, given the track record of lack of robustness and firmness of purpose shown by some EU countries in the past when faced by the prospect of their troops having to fight and perhaps die, the likelihood is that they would fold. The Russians know this perfectly well. Only the prospect of facing NATO backed by the USA is likely to give the Russians pause to think.
What is so surprising however is seeing the UK go along with it. It is difficult from the outside to understand why. Perhaps policy confusion; a peculiar unwillingness to veto bad ideas by a leaving country; poor management and other reasons may have contributed. One also suspects though that it is because Whitehall has not quite grasped the detail of what it has been signing up to. Or perhaps, officials are working on the cynical old soldiers’ principle; ’if you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined’.
The key agreements have been signed off EU Council level, probably by badly-briefed ministers. The result has been unseen by the UK Parliament. Pretty normal for how EU business is conducted.
The problem is that it means handing control to joint EU committees governing growing areas of collective military finance, assets, strategy and policy.
UK officials have ‘sold’ the agreements across government by touting highly questionable cost savings. They have even claimed advantages for UK industry, whereas in fact it would lose its umbilical link with government procurement as the EU has introduced yet more of its ‘cheapest-wins’, EU-wide tendering directives into defence.
This might make market sense, but the policy is not market driven; it is intended to generate a revolution in national defence capability, largely by ending it.
Just Look at The threat to UK shipyards and the defence industry
Staying in EU defence directives removes the UK Government’s right to allocate defence-related contracts to UK companies. This is particularly important for shipyards across the UK. Compliance with EU defence directives is a condition of UK participation in the EU’s military and defence industrial schemes, as shown by Norway’s example.
EU defence directives state that participating member states must open government defence contracts to ‘cheapest-wins’ EU-wide competition except when a member state regards domestic manufacture of a specific item to be a national security requirement. The EU has been attempting to eliminate this ‘security exemption’ and recently clamped down on its application by publishing new guidelines on the same day as Juncker’s European Defence Action Plan.
The Government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy of September 2017 appears to reflect the requirements of EU defence directives in regard to defence procurement. About one third of naval ships (frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers) are reserved as UK-only build while all others (such as patrol, mine-countermeasure, hydrographic, amphibious vessels and Royal Fleet Auxiliary) will be open to international tender.
The GMB union complained that the strategy “does not go far enough” in allocating government shipbuilding to UK shipyards.
It is important to note that this is not just shipyards. Procurement policy squeeze applies just as equally to any factory building helicopters, APCs, artillery, aircraft, firearms, or conducting research, for example.
This is not to say that we are suggesting protectionist policies should prevail. Far from it. The UK in European terms is a R&D leading specialist in many fields, and a top range supplier in many areas of equipment. The fundamental problem is that EU policy is designed to “rationalise” procurement by generating politically-driven shares of expertise.
In the first instance, this means the UK will be obliged to surrender independent capability to supply its own armed forces in times of conflict: the refusal of the Belgian government to supply ammunition during the Falklands Conflict should be sufficient to alert one to the risks.
In the second case, “rationalisation” of construction will lead to major closures of defence industries based not on grounds of true effectiveness, but as other “common” policies like the CFO and CAP demonstrate, based on political barter. We do not want to see Govan or Yeovil (or other locations) shut down on these arbitrary EU political grounds. Nor, I imagine does the SNP in the case of Govan.
However civil servants’ advice on the matter is being swallowed wholesale. Their recommendations have been unchallenged across government and even now appear in the defence negotiating paper published this month by the Department for Exiting the EU.
Make no mistake, these are agreements that the UK is already in – the right to decide whether to join them was removed. They include every area of defence policy making from intelligence to finance, military command, shipbuilding and even the commissioning of new satellite technology. This is a widening post-Brexit trap. We must consider for example how the EU’s plans to more closely coordinate member states’ intelligence under its SIAC unit would affect our relationship with the Five Eyes intelligence alliance with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Looking to the future and being positive. The EU and the Remoaners need to understand that after Brexit, there is nothing to stop the UK from fashioning defence agreements on a bilateral basis, as for example the Memorandum of Understanding between the United Kingdom and Holland authorizing cooperation between their respective Marine Corps, which has been in place since the early 1970s, or the more recent Anglo/ French agreement. These and other examples of assistance and mutual operational support can continue. There is no reason to suppose that the UK’ s interests will change after leaving the EU, and we have engaged in conflict on the continent of Europe frequently over the past centuries. Historically when there is a specific threat that an enemy holds, or might hold, that part of the coast of Europe from which he might invade us. This has been a key ingredient in British strategy back as far as the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
So it falls to ordinary people to campaign, to raise awareness among MPs and to secure the UK’s right to leave these agreements so that the country may retain our democratic control over HM Armed Forces. It would be a peculiar victory if we obtain our freedom from the EU at the same moment as we have surrendered our ability to defend that freedom.”