While much debate over the draft UK-EU withdrawal agreement has revolved around the so-called “backstop” ensuring no hard border is created in Ireland, of far more serious concern are the articles which seek to tie the UK to the EU’s military projects after March 29th. The arrangements appear as proposals in the Political Declaration, and little is said about defence in the Withdrawal Agreement itself, but there is sufficient detail to give away what appears to be an attempt to bypass Parliament in the shape of a future defence treaty, to be signed after Brexit Day using ministerial, or ‘prerogative’ powers delegated by the Crown. The foundations for this future treaty are clearly being laid, even in the relatively few mentions of defence issues in the Withdrawal Agreement.
For instance, Article 156 of the Withdrawal Agreement states that “Until 31 December 2020, the United Kingdom shall contribute to the financing of the European Defence Agency, the European Union Institute for Security Studies, and the European Union Satellite Centre, as well as to the costs of Common Security and Defence Policy operations.”
While this relates to the proposed transition period, Article 127 says “In the event that the Union and the United Kingdom reach an agreement governing their future relationship in the areas of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy….” In other words, the arrangements for the transition period are to be replaced by a longer-term agreement on defence cooperation. There is absolutely no need for the UK to continue being involved with the EU’s military programme at all – even during any transition period.
Unlike trade, there would be no disruption for the UK if we simply cut off our involvement with military EU on Brexit day. Indeed, given our historic opposition to the EU’s military aspirations (which we rightly viewed as an unnecessary duplication of NATO), it would have made sense to have excluded all mention of defence from the withdrawal agreement and the Political Declaration – in other words, to make a clean break. The inclusion of these articles is extremely worrying, suggesting that senior figures in the Government and/or the Civil Service are seeking to compromise the UK’s independent military and intelligence capability and that this policy tie to the EU may even be a means of facilitating the UK’s future return to EU membership. This is nothing less than a betrayal of the 2016 referendum and an affront to democracy. Unless all references to tie-ins with EU defence in both the Withdrawal Agreement and the political declaration are removed forthwith, the Withdrawal Agreement must be rejected by any MP who truly wishes to honour the vote to leave the EU.
Since 2016, the EU has pushed ahead with the integration of the armed forces and security services of the member states. This big picture has been muddied by the complexity of the number of new agencies which have been created. MPs have unsurprisingly been struggling to keep up to date with the precise nature of the European Defence Union, the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence and so on, but the big picture is very simple. These bodies are like the arms of a giant octopus – all leading to a single source, which is the EU’s desire to develop a separate military identity.
We chose not to join PESCO (The Permanent Structured Cooperation) but could easily end up entering through the back door by staying in another arm of military EU. Let us be clear:- like every new EU initiative; this is a political project pure and simple. Thanks to NATO, the security of Europe will not be threatened if the UK withdraws from all involvement with the military EU on March 29th as it should. Indeed, UK withdrawal from military EU would keep the continent safer. The Fives Eyes intelligence network (the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) has been the most effective guardian of western security in recent years. Were the UK to continue to be involved in the EU’s military integration project, the other four members have stated that they may be more reluctant to share sensitive information with us, due to the unreliability of some EU member states.
From the UK’s point of view, we gain nothing by our involvement in military EU. The EU’s own guidelines are quite explicit:- non-members are welcome to join, but only in a subordinate role. The strategic decisions may only be made by EU member states. Signing a new treaty with the EU on defence, therefore, means the loss of control over defence and defence procurement for no benefit whatsoever. For this reason, the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration in their present forms must be utterly rejected as a threat to both our independence and security.