The Government’s deal with the EU coupled with last-minute law changes in Brussels has produced a new set of legal obligations that could still lead to UK involvement in a ‘Militarised EU’.
In many ways, the Brexit vote was actually a reprieve for the Remain-campaigning Establishment. It has meant they would never have to explain the arrival of EU military integration structures that were constantly dismissed as never happening.
After the initial preparation work in 2015, the EU’s military framework has spread like a giant fungus between late 2016 and late 2019. This new framework of budgets, networks across dozens of agreements, was barely noticed in the UK because of the Brexit debate. Most of us did not see ministers quietly approving its structures. Fewer still noticed its structures later popping up in the post-Brexit deal.
When they did, MPs were not equipped to assess the issue as they had not received any kind of education about the structures by the civil servants who had eagerly advised ministers to join them.
It will be no surprise, therefore, that no-one in elected politics has so far commented on one of those military structures being shoehorned at the 11th hour into the UK-EU deal.
The European Defence Fund, whose relatively small financial size of just a few billion hides far greater political powers, was secreted into the Horizon Europe programme like a band of Greek warriors in the belly of a Trojan Horse. The European Defence Fund, or EDF, is a central ‘pillar’ of what the EU calls its ‘European Defence Union’.
EDF was inserted into Horizon Europe in an EU Council agreement less than 2 weeks before the deal was agreed and only after the UK had signalled its intention to join.
EDF’s participation rules for non-EU states, 63 pages of heavy political obligations, were announced at the same time. Neither text was published straight away, for a few days they were limited while other EU institutions gave their consent. We now know that the EU published both texts, the Horizon Europe rules and the EDF non-EU participation laws, just six days before the deal was signed. However, this was not known until after the deal was signed and ratified by Parliament.
In fact, the very presence of EDF within Horizon Europe was not spotted by Leave campaigners until the deal was being discussed in Parliament. The desperate scramble to find the relevant EU legal texts for EDF did not yield results until after Parliament voted. Therefore, there was no opportunity to warn MPs about the consequences of UK involvement in EDF via Horizon Europe.
It is worth reflecting for a moment on how we arrived here.
MPs were busy on Brexit when EU defence agreements reached fever pitch in 2018. The agreements were rushed through in a process that made EU Commissioners comment that they had done more on defence in 9 months than in the previous 30 years.
Each component, usually with its own instantly-forgettable acronym, was rolled out and approved in isolation. Each one ready-made, with no need for joint formulation or even consultation apparently, each one even had a handy excuse to justify approval by member states.
Yet – and here is the thing – it was only later after initial approval that we would find out that each component served a purpose within a much larger machine. E.D.A., P.E.S.C.O. and E.D.F. are core parts of the EU Capability Development Mechanism, but it does not stop there.
C.S.D.P., E.D.A. and P.E.S.C.O. would encourage the formation of joint capabilities and units. E.D.F. would pay for the research and development of these capabilities. C.A.R.D. would incentivise member states to buy the end result of the ‘capabilities projects’. E.U.M.C. would bring member state military chiefs into the advisory chain for the development of capabilities projects. E.D.A. and C.S.D.P. would tighten policy and decision-making adherence to ensure member states and their spending plans stayed aligned throughout.
All along, Whitehall’s quiet fixation for EU Defence has been shocking to those few in military and academic circles who understand it. Parts of the civil service have displayed all the characteristics of a heroin addict: claiming to be ‘clean’ but continually making excuses to return for another hit; concealing their real intention with cover stories; refusing to give straight answers to simple questions about the consequences of their intentions.
When Prof Gwythian Prins and Lt Gen Riley spoke at RUSI about this threat, the Secretary of State for Defence did at least promise to have a look, but delegated it to lawyers to do the job. He dismissed it as a lawyers’ debate about whether the rules on EDF were so rigid.
But what of the deal?
Although there are legal lines which provide an immediate rod to bash the UK, the more tangible danger exists in the preparatory work that UK mandarins have done to bring us to this point than the combination of the preparatory work and the deal.
The preparatory work can be split into two main sections. First, is the defence directive, which steals any Brexit advantage from British shipbuilding and defence industry arising from WTO provisions to safeguard domestic industry. This single act confirms the demise of thousands of jobs and no revival of British shipyards. It was necessary for the mandarins who favour a Militarised EU because it is a legal prerequisite for an EDF.
Second, is the misinformation of MPs by officials, which has presented EDF and other schemes as industrial sweeties instead of deeply political manoeuvres towards the EU strategic autonomy, which even the EU Commission admits. In this, the House of Commons Library has been particularly poor and have not even respected the deep sensitivities surrounding EU defence in British politics. However, they have a small team and are not equipped to study EU defence policy at the requisite depth due to the large amount of policy they must cover.
Combine the blocking of Brexit advantages with MPs being misinformed and you have an ideal scenario for pro-EU mandarins. It greatly increases the likelihood that MPs will sit quietly by as ministers are encouraged to join the European Defence Fund.
As ever the EU will not enforce the EDF’s legal binds straight away. First will come Industrial contracts. They might even shower a higher-than-expected number of them on UK industry.
Then will come the praise. A benevolent UK has ridden to the defence of the EU, our mighty defence industry with all its expertise, is dragging EU defence industry into the next decades.
Then we will notice. First, we will notice a few examples of EU rule-taking applied via our courts. Then will notice how mandarins have been trying to follow EU rules as far as possible to avoid the courts.
Then the EU will tighten the ratchet on UK adherence to EDF rules, which show how EDF exists within the ecosystem of the EU capability development mechanism. The EU will make it difficult for us to avoid significant financial losses to industry if we do not agree to further impositions.
They will hold up their texts from December 2020 and remind us that the EDF rules were there for all to see before we signed up to them. Therefore, we must abide by EU decisions on foreign and defence policy and exports and joint funding and procurement and standardisation.
The EU is free to tighten its grip at any moment and to do so in stages.
At first UK defence industry then increasingly UK defence policy will inexorably be drawn into the orbit of the EU. This is at the high political level of EUGS and CSDP and LOA, which military commanders would never see. They might, however, scratch their heads and ask why their political masters have been so influenced to take decisions In line with EU rather than UK interests.
The mandarins who are keen on the Military EU, which by the way they helped to create, will have won.
At present, there is no other possible future for the UK. Not unless ministers tackle obsessive pro-EU officials who pursue an agenda towards Brussels initiatives which is comparable to the agenda the Cambridge Five pursued for Moscow in the decades up to the 1960s. However, this will not happen because MPs consider it ‘haram’ to make accusations of political axe-grinding against the Civil Service.
There is also no prospect of MPs taking the time to understand the problem deeply enough that they understand the activity of their Whitehall advisers, which so often contradicts ministerial intent. So, we are stuck with it. UK shipyards and industry will not undergo the revival which Brexit clearly offered and UK defence autonomy will eventually find itself like fishing and Northern Ireland, where UK autonomy will be gradually chipped away.