Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
As Mr Clarke said earlier, this debate could have been tabled at any time over the coming weeks, so I wonder whether the Government have allowed this debate to go ahead today in order to make Her Majesty’s Opposition feel slightly uncomfortable and to draw the team of Jeremy Corbyn to the Dispatch Box to talk in glowing terms about an organisation that he clearly does not feel particularly warm towards.
It also obviously serves the Government’s agenda to talk about how they do not intend to neglect European security after Brexit, but I cannot but feel that, in this week of all weeks, they may have inadvertently drawn attention to the relationship with the United States. Atlanticism is a noble virtue and no one on these Benches would underestimate the importance of a strong relationship with the United States, but any country’s national interest must be dictated by carefully balancing our own interest with those of our allies, which are not always the same. Like Nia Griffith, I recognise that, while on Capitol Hill there is much support for NATO, the emboldened actions of the Trump Administration, not just last week, have shown us that—just as with Suez, just as with Vietnam, and just as with decolonisation—a UK Government cannot solely rely on the unequivocal support of the United States, no matter how much they may wish it; that is a historical reality.
I have noted this at other times in this place but it bears repeating: every presidential Administration since that of Dwight D. Eisenhower have made European security and integration a major priority. It is with no great relish that I note that the current Administration do not see it as a priority. I rather fear our own Government are simply deciding to hold hands and walk off into an unsure future.
In my party’s submission to the modernising defence programme consultation, we made it clear that this Government’s commitment to the north Atlantic must be explicitly stated and, dare I say it, that it must be about a lot more than just NATO. I am sure we all agree that, if NATO did not exist, we would have to invent it. So a commitment to NATO must be a commitment to work as closely as possible with those allies around us in the north Atlantic—those countries such as the kingdom of Norway and the kingdom of Denmark whose invasions during the second world war made imperative the existence of NATO, and whose continued existence as sovereign countries has greatly enhanced the international rules-based system that we must continue to protect.
NATO may be—to borrow every Brexiteer’s favourite truism—the cornerstone of our security but, from my perspective, the European Union has been the economic and social cement that has held it in place. This of course does not mean that all will fall around us, but it will make for more instability than we require. A state’s security is not simply measured by the number of people it can deploy under arms, by how many jets it has or by how many frigates protect its shores. It is also measured in the strength of our economy, the stability of our geographical neighbourhood and the ease with which we can do business there. Let me finish with this appeal to state interest. NATO has served European and Atlantic security extremely well over the last 70 years, and I fear that we are going to need it even more in future. Let us also remember that simply to praise its name is no substitute for understanding why the north Atlantic treaty was signed all those years ago.