Outcome of the European Union Referendum - Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:01 pm on 6th July 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence) 9:01 pm, 6th July 2016

My Lords, I am happy to follow the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and I recognise much of her campaign experience: it mirrors mine.

Today, I am not going to speak about trade or migration; many have spoken eloquently about the options that might be open to a new Government. I shall speak about Cornwall, where I live, and defence, on which I speak in your Lordships’ House. Like many noble Lords, I spent some time in the past few months on street stalls at weekends, talking to the residents of Cornwall. On polling day, along with a Conservative and a Labour Party member, I went out knocking up our remain vote. We did not delude ourselves. Despite having Objective 1 status, an agricultural area and fishing, the rhetoric of sovereignty—“We want our country back”—and immigration—“I’m not a racist, but …”—pointed very clearly to Cornwall voting to leave.

Let us be clear: Cornwall has benefited hugely from our membership of the EU, with funding for industry, such as the Davidstow creamery; education, the Combined Universities in Cornwall; infrastructure, fibre-optic broadband and the dualling of the A30; tourism and jobs, the Eden Project; the environment, green energy—all of which led to an improved economy, opportunities and growth.

However, of our five MPs, all Conservatives, four supported the leave campaign and only one remain. It is probably worth noting that those electors in the remain MP’s patch supported remain. The result was 57% to leave on a 77% turnout. In fact, the south-west as a whole supported leave, with a few notable exceptions. I had hoped that the rest of the UK would pull us along, but I was wrong.

But all this now seems long ago. During the campaign it was clear that few had thought of the UK belonging to any other international organisations from which we benefited—yet, on prompting, they would endorse our membership of the Commonwealth, the United Nations and especially NATO. Of course, these are not up for debate, but what is without debate is that our departure from the EU will have an impact on NATO. The meeting this weekend in Warsaw is bound to be affected by the result: Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General, has said as much. It is clear that our position within NATO is rock solid. Any negotiations with the EU are independent of NATO. However, NATO and the EU are working more closely now than ever before. The leaders of both organisations now as a matter of course attend each other’s summits. In future, we will have only one foot in this closer union.

Thanks to the joint working of NATO and the EU, we have enjoyed stability and peace in Europe for more than 70 years. Most recently we have worked together on cyber and hybrid warfare and on helping refugees in the Aegean Sea. We are equally important to our western-facing allies and to those sharing a border with Russia. Yet there is fear that our leaving will precipitate a rush to leave by other, less stable states, and that the extreme right will be in the ascendancy. I am sure that the Commission is concerned about the stability of the Union, and I would imagine that work is already in hand to look at areas of reform.

As other noble Lords said, one of the unknowns of the future is our economy. We have committed to spending 2% of our GDP on defence and have been encouraging other NATO members to do the same. Will 2% of a diminishing pot, however, give us enough to manage? We will now face on our own such currently shared tasks as patrols in the Mediterranean, protection of fisheries and management of our 200-mile exclusive economic zone. Our EEZ is just short of 300,000 square miles.

Historically we have contributed 20% to the total EU military expenditure. This will not be money saved, as, alone, we will still need to carry out the same functions that we shared. Our coast will need patrolling—and not just the Straits of Dover but elsewhere, where we know the unscrupulous trafficking of people and drugs takes place. Were he in his seat, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord West, would be calling for gunboats in the Channel—but he does make a serious point. The Royal Navy, as it is now, because we have had allies within the EU to work with on these issues, is not in the same place. The last SDSR contained a plan to look at lightweight, all-purpose ships for the future. That future may come sooner than we think.

Perhaps different circumstances, a smaller GDP and our own sovereign-state responsibilities will force the new Government to look again and draw up a new SDSR. The SDSR of 2015 was welcomed, but it looked to a future which now has changed. NATO commitments will remain, but will we remain the reliable allies of EU states, especially in the context of our close relationship with France?

What might change in a new SDSR? Would or could the Trident decision be amended or revisited? Perhaps I should remind noble Lords that, as yet, Parliament has not made a decision on this. The main-gate vote has not happened, and now I am not sure when it might be. Looming large now is the promise of a vote on Scottish independence. The SNP opposes Trident in an independent Scotland. So where will we keep our boats? Faslane is the current option—deep water, easy access to the Atlantic. Maybe we will need to talk to the Welsh.

In this debate, when we speak about negotiations, we have been thinking in terms of trade and labour mobility, but our defence and security and intelligence issues are key, too. As members, we are part of the common security and defence policy, a domain of the European Council. Our Prime Minister is our representative, and will be until we leave. But Brexit will mean that we lose our place in this forum, along with the loss of access to key EU institutions and EU foreign policy networks—and, of course, the international arrest warrant.

There is no denying that the world has become more dangerous in recent years. Let us hope that this decision does not have unknown consequences for the defence of our nation. Defence is a lot about hard power, but we have a reputation for the effective exercise of soft power, too. Over the past few years we have been in the top three countries in the world. We will need to exercise all that and more in the negotiations that follow.