It is a pleasure to follow Bambos Charalambous. The question being asked by No. 10 and journalists alike seems to be whether it is possible for a Brexiteer such as myself who is half French—une femme qui adore l’Europe, mais pas tellement l’Union européenne—to support the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement and political declaration in their current form. I can translate that as “a woman who loves Europe but not so much the European Union”. As a pragmatist, I appreciate that perfection is often the enemy of the good. In fact, I am often heard to say to the perfectionists in my family—of whom there are two—usually in relation to homework and procrastination that “done is better than perfect”. That philosophy holds true for any agreement with the EU to assist as smooth a Brexit as possible.
The Prime Minister’s unequivocal determination to ensure the status of EU citizens in the UK—including my mother, as it happens—is absolutely right. It has also been good to see the drip-feed of confirmation over the past three weeks that other EU countries are putting through legislation to ensure mutual status for British citizens living in those countries if we have to leave in a no-deal environment on
I want to highlight one area of concern beyond the question of the backstop, as mentioned my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson, which is the wider defence and security and canvas. The UK is the leading European military nation in NATO, so I am profoundly concerned that the EU’s intention, as outlined elsewhere in the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, is to reduce our ability as a third country to act independently in the defence arena and to maintain our current position and commitment.
We must look closely at the proposed post-Brexit relationship with the EU that the Prime Minister plans to negotiate and consider whether we should accept what is clearly beneficial to the EU if that would cause significant detriment to the UK’s defence industry, our control of our own defence and security forces, and how we can ensure independently and with sovereign capability that we can decide what we do for our economic security and that of our constituents in the decades ahead. I am concerned by the short-termist tone of Ministers and the Government when they say that there must be no disruption to daily life, but the proposals leave us with the long-term risk of not having really Brexited or regained our freedom of choice and, indeed, responsibility for our actions. Brexit means having nowhere to hide and no one else to blame.
The language of the political declaration includes “flexible and scalable co-operation” to protect from threats and close work at bilateral levels and within international organisations, which all sounds good. Then, however, the language refers to combined efforts with the EU. We already have a powerful and effective combined effort framework in NATO, with EU countries wrapped up in that security blanket. The most recent treaty published this week between France and Germany—the underlying reason for the EU being to stop battles between those two nations and to try to maintain peace in Europe after such bruising and destructive wars in the last century—highlights France’s continuing need to reassert its position vis-à-vis Germany. Indeed, only yesterday the German Foreign Minister talked again of how an EU army is becoming a reality. That detracts from military effort, financial investment and effective outcomes for all our allies through NATO. We must stand firm in reasserting that NATO can remain the co-operative organisation that provides effective security protection under article 5, and driving through policy to ensure that.
The problems with what the Prime Minister has agreed with the EU risk our ability to protect our defence industry as we believe necessary and beneficial. I remain profoundly concerned that the proposals in the political declaration, off the back of the withdrawal agreement, hold unacceptable risks—although there is always a question of balance of risk—to the United Kingdom’s defence and security flexibility and autonomy, and reduce the benefits to UK plc. Having been a global maritime trading nation for the past 400 years, we should be able to bring that back as our focus as we move towards becoming an independent country once again.