The UK’s post-Brexit defence partnership with the EU must be based on co-operation, not integration

The UK’s post-Brexit defence partnership with the EU must be based on co-operation, not integration

The sacked Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has been warning British ministers for months to learn from his fate and to realise that Brussels has no interest in any negotiated solution as we leave the EU, only in Britain’s complete humiliation. Indeed, the EU is on a path to classing ‘eurosceptic sentiment’ (that means us) as a ‘threat to the union’ enforceable by internal security action via Federica Mogherini’s Security and Defence Implementation Plan published on 14th November 2016 and approved the same day at EU Council.

It isn’t rational and it is self-harming to the EU as well as damaging to Britain. But that is the nature of the beast and it will not change. Since we voted to leave, Brussels has been preparing flanking manoeuvres to trap Britain within its power regardless. One of these is now revealed.

Suddenly, Britain faces an extraordinary military risk during the EU exit talks. We are under fire in a carefully prepared EU ambush and in real danger of falling victim to an EU power-grab because our own officials have not adequately assessed the landscape because, as a matter of record, since the British people decided to leave the EU, officials have advised and allowed ministers to make very damaging concessions already, which people need to understand clearly before it is too late to reverse them.

I fear that yesterday’s defence partnership paper from DExEU is, sadly, precise proof of what I write.

It reveals that the Government intends to make the UK ‘more than a third country’ in the ongoing EU military unification process – Nick Clegg’s never-to-exist EU Army. The UK will pay into the defence pot and subscribe to rules, structures and agreements. To do this is to deny ourselves one of Britain’s most potent cards in our current poker game with the EU for absolutely no gain. Barnier and Juncker have a much weaker hand but play it with cold aggression. We should match them and counter the demand for a leaving fee – which Martin Howe QC has shown (and DExEU knows and has told Barnier) to be utterly without legal basis – with refusal to guarantee anything on defence until a trade agreement is made. What has been done instead?

A competent assessment of the landscape would have revealed that these defence commitments bring an intolerable cost for the UK in lost control over defence policy.

We know this for two of reasons. First, because the arrangement already exists for Norway. Secondly, because the UK is already within these arrangements. Britain is a member state that has consented to the vast Military Union agreements the EU has completed in the last ten months – except the UK approved these agreements on the understanding they would have no effect on a departing UK. That’s why most MPs haven’t heard of the agreements and definitely haven’t debated and voted on them.

But if this DExEU paper is applied, now they will have full effect after we leave.

Proposing to stay attached, as DExEU is now doing, means submitting to collective action in a wide array of top level defence decisions: finance, asset purchasing and development, joint asset ownership and above all the common structures in the Crown Jewels of strategy-making, command and intelligence.

Therefore, the DExEU partnership paper is not a stand-alone document. It must be viewed in the context of 100,000-plus words of EU military unification agreements. Do that, and it becomes clear that participation of any kind is integration, not co-operation.

The EU has made clear that participation is conditional on membership of the European Defence Agency, the EU defence purchasing directives and the EU Common Defence Policy. That’s not all. As non-EU Norway was told, participating countries must also adhere to the recent European Defence Action Plan, the European Defence Fund, the EU Security and Defence Implementation Plan and the evolving EU Defence Industrial Development Strategy.

All of these structures appear by name in the DExEU document.  It almost seems as if someone in Whitehall wants us to be attached to EU Defence Union in the same way as Norway.

Uniquely in this particular case, ministers find themselves downstream in the policy process. The upstream officials crucially operate at several other points along the way. Despite their small numbers, they are making a big impact because so few people are familiar with the policy landscape.

MPs have only looked once at the EU’s military union plans, via a report on the European Defence Fund. This took place ten weeks after UK ministers agreed to it and it was too late to make changes.

So today is high time to get specific and to dissect the defence sections of the DExEU Partnership Paper on Foreign Policy Defence and Development:

Working together ‘in’ CSDP

Any future relationship must be co-operation not integration, a bilateral relationship of equals.  But once it’s bilateral it won’t say the UK is ‘participating in’ CSDP. Instead it will be CSDP and UK policy decided jointly.

Here is the snare:

“cooperation and continued support through existing foreign policy mechanisms”

“…provide the opportunity for the UK and the EU to work together in CSDP missions and operations.”

Did you spot the man trap? CSDP is a policy.  It does not prescribe missions. Yet here it is telling the UK what to do. 

Planning and ‘contribution to CSDP’

EU agreements in military planning and command chain are evolving all the time, which means that the UK’s choice to stay intrinsically involved rather than to co-operate as a separate ally means that the UK is committing to the development of EU military command centres and command chains. The paper even says UK HQs involved in EU missions will continue to have an EU CSDP banner above the door.

So here is the power grab spelled out: “continued contribution to CSDP missions and operations, including UK personnel, expertise, assets, or use of established UK national command and control facilities.”

As well as the reference to continued UK financial contributions, remember that the UK is already committed to the EU Defence Fund via its leading €39 billion stake in the European Investment Bank.

EU and NATO, Crisis response, multinational capability, stability and resilience

The paper says the UK will “champion EU-NATO cooperation”. In fact we are witnessing an incremental slide of powers towards the EU. When the paper says the EU can help in the “improved coordination in the analysis of and response to crises” it amounts to placing lead responsibility within EU structures as prescribed by EU Council agreements of 2017. He who designs the strategy commands the army.

If ministers think they have the potential to ‘steer’ the EU defence project from within they are deluding themselves. Yanis Varoufakis’s book, Adults in the Room, describing exactly how he was undermined and destroyed by Brussels and Berlin, should be required reading, with an examination afterwards!

Some of the phrases in the DExEU paper are shocking for their unquestioning similarity to the original EU Commission phraseology. Here are two verbatim examples:

“coherent and mutually reinforcing development of national and multinational military capability requirements” 

“closer cooperation to promote stability and resilience in Europe’s neighbourhood”

The highly questionable line that the EU Commission’s ‘Military Union’ plans “avoid duplication” needs to be vigorously challenged by the UK Government. The EU’s recent agreements have duplication written all over them, owing to the parallel command, budgetary and policy structure they create, from the MPCC to the CFM – all agreed to by UK officials in 2017.

Defence industrial programmes

It is breath-taking for the informed observer to read, as the paper proposes, future UK participation in the European Defence Agency, European Defence Industrial Development Programme, European Defence Fund, the European Defence Research Programme, the European Defence Technology Industrial Base, as they are all components of the military unification plan and all require adherence to EU rules and authority.

The UK does not propose such relationships even with United States. Why then with the EU which 17.4 million British people just voted to leave?

The UK would not commit to US authority for long-term political membership of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or the US Government’s Reliance 21, or the US Research and Engineering Enterprise Project or the Defense Innovation Marketplace.

The UK co-operates with it productively as an equal partner without political impositions. And the US is a proven ally, not a ‘sweet enemy’.

The paper does not address the growing protectionism of EU defence industrial plans in which the UK has been entirely complicit at the expense of the US in lost co-operation and revenues and ourselves in lost policy control.  Nor does the short section on space mention the repercussions of militarising the EU’s space projects. The UK has significant expertise and contributions to Galileo and Copernicus and this was an opportunity for the UK to insist that they become bilateral projects where future direction is set in partnership.  How, therefore, does the UK’s decision to focus defence co-operation on EU Commission technocrats sit with the British people’s decision to leave and the belief that there should be a choice for European citizens at large about whether in future they wish to be under EU control?

If we allow Britain to be taken hostage in this ambush, it is not only we who are the losers. We are also betraying citizens in EU states unsettled by EU Commission powers by depriving them of the chance to say ‘no more’. We are removing that voice from them by collaborating with the EU’s defence powers. Do you really think that Commission does not understand that? Of course it does! That is why the stakes are so high and why it is so vital for them to make Britain bow the knee.

There is an urgent demand for clear-sightedness and tough-mindedness as the people and their MPs force Ministers to extricate Britain from the vast and problematic agreements that Ministers, led by their officials, have made since November 2016. I fear that this DExEU paper does not provide for the necessary robustness.