When will our leaders wake up to the EU defence threat?

by David Card

Defence is a vital post-Brexit relationship but the UK needs to wake up and really engage in the defence debate and review the EU’s ambitions for their European Defence Union that the UK has been signing up to.

Defence is affected by the Brexit trade deal which provides the EU a means to achieve their defence ambitions by the UK participation in Horizon Europe (HE) and the European Defence Fund (EDF) by “reeling” the UK into EU Defence and Foreign policy compliance.

Defence receives little parliamentary scrutiny despite being the biggest attribute of sovereignty a nation possesses. The UK has gone along with the EU’s ambitions while gaining little for the UK but gifting real powers and influence to the EU.

Despite many warnings to MPs, they dismiss concerns as fanciful and impossible. Now the UK is participating in EU programmes. The combined HE and EDF has rules that require UK compliance with EU defence and foreign policy. EDF links and commits the UK to the EU’s defence architecture to deliver their defence ambitions that move and cement their European project for federalisation. EU mandarins have confirmed we must comply.

The UK has consistently played second fiddle to the EU’s defence agenda and accepted EU rules and rights of audit, access and sanctions against UK individuals and companies without securing reciprocal rights. This deserves closer scrutiny.

So where is the opposition and warnings that UK support of the EU’s defence ambitions are not in the interests of NATO, ourselves and other European nation states?

The majority of UK voters rejected at the referendum and the last general election EU ambitions for control of UK affairs.

The German EU Commission presidency sought to marginalise EU nation states dissenting from surrendering their control of defence to the EU by establishing a “coalition of the [EU Defence Project] determined”.  The remaining EU-dissenting nations no longer have the UK on the inside but look to the UK to lead the counter “coalition of the NOT so determined”!

In 2019 the US launched a withering attack on the EU’s defence ambitions as ‘poison pills’ with ‘restrictive wording’, which would create “EU protectionism and undermine NATO”. By contrast British politicians have been relatively quiet about the EU’s defence architecture, arguably because they been so poorly advised by the very mandarins who sympathise with the EU’s defence ambitions.

The first “litmus test” of what the trade deal could mean for defence was whether the UK government would flex its newfound muscles to reinvigorate our shipbuilding industries (as the Canadians had done under WTO rules) by restricting the £1.5 billion Royal Navy support ship contract to just UK yards. The UK bowed to the EU. At the very first opportunity the UK surrendered to EU defence policy.

In early December 2020, Michel Barnier announced that the UK would keep the EU’s defence procurement rules that require global competition rather than move to the WTO’s rules. No.10 said nothing.

Participation in EU programmes allows the EU Audit and Excess right (“spying”) over UK individuals and companies, risks control over intellectual property rights arising from military and other R&D, levers UK compliance to EU defence & foreign policy objectives, opens our defence market to the EU and frustrates the UK using preference procurement to pump prime UK defence industries such as shipbuilding.

A month on and EU bullying has already started. It bodes ill for building a constructive new relationship. The EU behaving in a similar fashion to its Covid vaccine response is going to continue. Any UK confidence in supporting EU defence ambitions is misplaced.

There are other alternatives to EU ambitions to advance their European project. Professor Gwythian Prins, Sir Richard Dearlove and Field Marshal Lord Guthrie published (29 March 2019) an alternative treaty setting out a future UK/EU relationship on defence, security and Intelligence based on “cooperation” not “surrender”.

The UK must have absolute control over its defence; it cannot be surrendered to other powers. We may cooperate and coordinate as we do in the NATO model but we must not yield to position ourselves under a bully’s power.

Only if we question, scrutinise and debate will we in the future come to understand just how the EU is operating and applying the terms of the Brexit trade deal, how they are trying to control our participation in HE programmes, and how they are steering the current UK commitments to elements of their defence architecture that drive forward their ambitions to make defence an EU competency.

The EU has shown its true colours on vaccines and its programmes, its rules and its jurisdiction allow it the room to manoeuvre and coerce the UK to accept its policy and its interests. The partners we choose to share our world class defence expertise, skills, secrets and capabilities must be worthy of our trust.

The long-awaited “Integrated review of foreign, defence and security policy” is planned for publication this spring. It has been hinted it will recommend “cuts” to the MoD’s 10-year equipment plan, which is claimed to be over-committed by £7 billion. This review must also challenge and “cut” Mrs May’s instruction of October 2016 “to lock us into the European Defence Union”.

Our Parliament needs to “take back control” of the decision-making powers so far abdicated to UK mandarins. The loss of UK defence autonomy is too high a price to pay for being locked into EU Defence Union ambitions.

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