20 June 2018

On defence, the EU is shooting everyone in the foot

By Stephen Mitchell

In a speech on security cooperation earlier this month Brexit Secretary David Davis neatly summed up Brussels’ intransigence when he said the EU was “shooting itself in the foot just to prove the gun works”.

Whilst applicable to a wide range of issues surrounding the Brexit negotiations, it is most apt when describing the recent spat over the Galileo Space Satellite Programme, and post-Brexit defence and security cooperation in general. The European Commission is sending a message loud and clear: the UK is now a “hostile state”.

Firstly, the ignorance of this position is abundantly clear to anyone who understands 20th Century history and international relations. Quite apart from defending the continent in World War II, Britain is a founding member of NATO, which has kept the peace in Europe for nearly 70 years. Our exit from the failing Brussels political project does not mean either side shunning our shared history and values – it is a reclamation of our sovereignty and an example of Western democracy in action.

Come March 29th 2019 we will still be members of NATO, of the G7, and the UN, leaders of western civilisation and proponents of democratic and economic institutions which have brought about unprecedented peace and prosperity.

The European Commission cites the security risks of sharing intelligence and cooperating on security with a “third country” – as if the UK is some kind of backwater. Michel Barnier has already made plain his ambition to kick us out of the European Arrest Warrant, despite the Government’s wish to stay in. The head of the European Defence Agency has proposed a “litmus test” for non-EU countries seeking collaboration with the EU.

This is an understandable instinct, but the criteria being proposed are nonsensical. The EU would shun actual defence capabilities (of which the UK has more than most) and instead demand shared defence objectives. The risk is non-existent. The UK is not Russia, or China, or North Korea. We are both an integral part of Europe and a guarantor of its security – just think back to the 1940s. To treat us differently after Brexit would amount to a hissy fit by bitter Europhiles and could imperil Europe’s security in the future.

We are especially vital to the Galileo project – to which the UK has already contributed €1 billion. The Galileo satellite is part of Europe’s answer to America’s GPS satellite programme – and its Russian and Chinese counterparts – which provides the navigational tools we use every day in our smartphones, and for targeted use in military operations, defence and other industries. Lack of equal access could have dire consequences for intelligence-sharing with EU countries in the future.

The EU also seems to have forgotten the Falklands Islands – which are home to an essential Galileo base. A refusal to cooperate and sign a mutually beneficial security partnership after Brexit, could result in huge financial losses to the programme and the loss of vital infrastructure in key areas of the world.

The UK – home to a £14 billion space sector – has been a crucial player in developing and funding Galileo. The Government is right to want both close cooperation and full access to the  programme. However, if the intransigence of the Commission refuses this, it won’t be Britain who suffers most. We have far more capabilities than the European Union does to develop our own robust satellite system, deepen our resource sharing with our greatest ally, the US, and use our territories across the globe.

On a larger scale, EU member states – in typical fashion – are creating a convoluted bureaucratic structure on defence and security matters, the main pillar of which is the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). PESCO would seek to erase national borders across the continent and create integrated training standards and operational units. European bureaucrats are, of course, optimistic about the prospect of a united European military force, but the whole initiative ignores the particular geopolitical concerns of different countries.

Poland’s defence concerns, for example, are not the same as Ireland’s. If the price of UK access to the Galileo Satellite is contribution and cooperation with PESCO and other Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) initiatives, the UK must turn away from the EU and instead take the lead on the global stage.

Britain is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, meaning with its veto, it has an equal say with Russia, China, and the United States. We are one of the few nations in NATO to actually spend the required 2% of GDP on defence, and our armed forces still rank as amongst the best trained and best equipped in the world.

The intelligence sharing programme Five Eyes (FEVY) has been hailed as the world’s best and is a prime example of collaborative efforts between countries of shared values and history – note, without restrictive political union. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) plays a crucial role in European security given its size, expertise, and close relationship with America’s National Security Agency (NSA). To underline this fact, GCHQ Director Jeremy Fleming made an unprecedented diplomatic intervention yesterday when he noted that the UK had “played a critical role in the disruption of terrorist operations in at least four European countries in the past year”.

The horrendous terrorist attacks on European and British shores have magnified the importance of security cooperation. Given the rise in rogue and lone wolf terrorist threats over the last few years and amid rising cybersecurity concerns, the EU does a disservice to all its member states if it prioritises making an example of the UK over the safety of its citizens.

In the latest twist, the European Commission is using Britain’s membership of the European Court of Human Rights – which is not part of the EU – as a bargaining chip in negotiations over a future security relationship. Any assumption that we are likely to throw human rights out of the window after Brexit is absurd. The UK is a founding member of the ECHR, which predates the European Union.

It is about time the EU stops demanding the impossible from Westminster and starts to treat us as the friend and ally we are, before this all gets out of hand.

UK defence and security autonomy must be another red line in the Brexit negotiations. Britain alone is more than an equal to the European Union on the world stage, which was a central argument in our campaign to Get Britain Out in the 2016 EU Referendum. As we face a multitude of new threats in the 21st Century, we must leverage our global status and strengthen the existing relationships we have with the United States, our Commonwealth allies, and NATO.

It is the EU which requires we continue as a financier of their pet projects – not vice versa. Brussels should recognise this, rather than continuing to make ridiculous demands of us, and stop trying to take advantage of our perceived political weakness. Despite the results of the 2017 General Election, our government is not as weak and wobbly as some Europhiles are trying to make out. Because of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the Conservatives will remain in Government until 2022 – bar exceptional circumstances – and if Theresa May is toppled by a no confidence vote, it will more than likely be a stronger Brexiteer taking charge, which would definitely not be to Michel Barnier’s liking.

Brussels must realise this: we are Great Britain and will not be pushed around. Against all the odds, the British public voted Out – the EU is only shooting itself in the foot if it doesn’t get on board with this reality.

Stephen Mitchell is a Research Executive at the cross-party, grassroots campaign Get Britain Out