Not enough is known about how the UK will remain engaged in European security and defence matters following its exit from the European Union in 2019.
In February I published a paper on Brexit and Security focusing mainly on domestic security and access to EU databases and am now working on another on UK-EU Defence.
On 13 November, 23 EU countries signed a post-Brexit Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) agreement to deepen defence co-operation. The UK’s powerful military is matched only by France, which favours granting the UK status merely as a third country participant with no role shaping PESCO policies. The bilateral treaty the UK government wants is still to be discussed in negotiations but may not be acceptable to all 27 EU member states.
I would prefer a broader alliance based on the post-war Western EU (WEU) which predates the EU and NATO. It would foster organised cooperation between both EU members in PESCO and democratic non-EU members - particularly when NATO is unable to do so. Without dismissing the primacy of NATO for the UK, a WEU-like structure could bind the UK for security and defence purposes to neutral non-NATO states such as Sweden as well as non-EU democratic countries including possibly Ukraine, Georgia and Israel.
The UK must use its resources more efficiently as we face an expansionist Russia, unending Middle East instability, a continuing Mediterranean migration crisis and a fast-evolving international terrorist menace. Reducing barriers in Europe-wide defence procurement would also hopefully lead to a single defence market - crucial at a time of defence budgetary pressures.
Our long-term security and defence relations was due to be discussed at the 14 December EU Council Summit. If agreement is not found there is a real danger of a cliff edge, particularly on domestic security.
The EU Referendum - approved by a slim majority at a time of challenges to the EU internally and externally - was held on an understanding that its result would be respected. There was, however, no accepted single view of what leaving the EU would look like. The Leave campaign promise of simplicity in untangling 44 years of joint work with EU partners has not materialised - just as £350 million per week for the NHS cannot be delivered by Brexit. Leaving is predicted to contract the UK economy while £50 billion needs to be found to settle the UK’s liabilities.
The EU is not perfect but it has helped bring relative peace and prosperity to Europe for the last half century. It is a force for good in a globalised world requiring cross-border cooperation. Its disintegration does not augur well for global governance or long-term stability given the dangers of populism, protectionism and isolationism. I continue to campaign for the softest Brexit including remaining in the EU Customs Union and Single Market.
This is my last newsletter of 2017 after a difficult year for the Conservative party and government during the Brexit negotiations. I wish all my London constituents a happy Christmas and New Year and hope the festive season will provide us with a short break before returning in 2018 refreshed to face the ongoing challenges.🔷
(This piece was first published on Charles Tannock's website.)