The UK’s disproportionate contribution to European security should be a powerful negotiating card in the Brexit talks

The UK’s disproportionate contribution to European security should be a powerful negotiating card in the Brexit talks

Following the Prime Minister’s recent unconditional offer of the UK’s continuing contribution to European defence, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the Munich Security Conference: “I wouldn’t like to put security policy considerations with trade policy considerations in one hat. I understand why some would like to do that, but we don’t want to.” His view has been supported by Sir John Sawers, former head of MI6, and Robert Hannigan, former head of GCHQ.

I beg to differ. No European country has contributed more to the security of the continent than the UK, sacrificing some 2 million lives in the past century and maintaining a powerful military presence in West Germany to deter any Soviet aggression during the Cold War. Today, despite a woefully inadequate defence budget, the UK is the leading defence power in NATO after the United States. Of course, Mr Juncker (18 years Prime Minister of mighty Luxembourg) doesn’t want to “put trade and security in the same hat” because the UK brings to the table not only serious military capabilities like the nuclear deterrent and our two new aircraft carriers, but also an intelligence capability vital to all our allies.

In the face of deeply unpleasant bullying from the European Commission, the expressed desire to ‘punish’ the UK for having had the temerity to reject ‘the project’ – and a blunt refusal to offer us a mutually beneficial trade deal – it is entirely legitimate for us to play two powerful cards in our hand: the £10 billion-a-year net we pay into the EU budget and our disproportionate contribution to security.

The two former security chiefs believe that we would no longer have a voice in EU rules governing data holding which, it seems, means we have to remain in the EU. However, since it is admitted that we contribute more to the provision of intelligence than the others and that tackling the common menace of terrorism is manifestly in all our interests, surely they will want to find a way that they can continue to benefit from the UK’s accepted expertise?

According to The Times, Mr Hannigan said that it would be unethical to threaten to withhold security data to prise concessions out of Brussels. He said: “How could you possibly think of withholding material that might stop a terrorist attack in exchange for fish quotas or something? It’s absurd.” Such patrician disdain for our fishermen will have been noted across the Kingdom.

Sir John was also quoted in The Times as saying that Brexit talks were not a “zero-sum game” and that upholding security alliances would foster a positive atmosphere in the talks. So, where is the evidence for that wild assertion? The UK could not have adopted a more emollient stance from the outset, yet we have been met by demand after demand, including a suggestion that to preserve the EU’s sacrosanct internal market we effectively cede Ulster to the Republic of Ireland.

Why do civil servants (and the BBC) constantly view Brexit through a negative prism? We are the dominant player in the security sphere so penalising us would inflict more damage on our continental neighbours. They have more to lose than we do, but we all have an interest in enhanced security.

There was also the suggestion that practical defence co-operation would be damaged by our departure. However, the two key military aerospace programmes, Tornado and Typhoon, have nothing to do with the EU. They are both British/German/Italian programmes with a bit of Spanish input but, significantly, none from France. We are the good Europeans here! Tornado development predated our joining the Common Market, as did the creation of the pan-European civil aircraft company, Airbus, so there is no reason why these should not continue post-Brexit.

When I was the Defence Minister in charge of EU matters, I found an insatiable appetite to create an EU ‘defence identity’. Germany, France and Poland wanted to have an EU ‘operational HQ’ to manage their anti-piracy campaign in the Indian Ocean, despite NATO having a fully-functioning Maritime HQ at Northwood. Eventually, thanks in large measure to William Hague’s persuasion, logic prevailed and the two operations were successfully co-located, as they remain today. However, Juncker and others have made clear their determination to create an EU Army, most recently on 13th September last year when he said: “By 2025 we will need a functioning European Defence Union,” a policy he claims is supported by NATO. Such a policy would deliver not one single extra soldier, let alone capability, and would be the ultimate negation of national sovereignty.

Surely, Russia’s manifest aggression in invading two sovereign countries (Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014), its continuing military presence in the Donbass region of Ukraine, its downing of a civilian airliner, its cyber assault on Estonia, and now its attempted murder of a private citizen in an English cathedral city reinforce the message that it is NATO, not the EU, which is the guarantor of our security and the UK is the key player on this side of the Atlantic. Time to play ball on trade in return for continuing security.