Permanent Structured Cooperation - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:41 am on 16th November 2017.

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Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour 11:41 am, 16th November 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the Permanent Structured Cooperation process agreed by 23 European Union member states on 13 November.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Howe affirmed to our EU partners at Monday’s Foreign Affairs Council with Defence Ministers, we welcome Permanent Structured Cooperation as a useful tool to support the development of the capabilities that Europe needs for its security, provided it remains complementary to NATO and encourages EU-NATO co-operation. The United Kingdom’s approach reflects our continuing commitment to European defence and security and to protecting the interests of UK industry.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I have to say that it does not really reassure me. Since 1945, the United Kingdom—until recently, when we started decimating our Armed Forces—and the United States have ensured the defence and security of Europe. The security of the continent of Europe is crucial to the United Kingdom. The Permanent Structured Cooperation process, which involves troops, procurement and a whole raft of defence issues is very misguided. There is no doubt whatever that the heirs to Marshal Zhukov in Russia understand hard combat power. They are not impressed by talking shops, headquarters and posturing. The co-operation process is full of all those. Could the Minister ensure that the United Kingdom is fully involved in this process and at the heart of Europe in defence terms, because we cannot let Europe go running off, not achieving anything and not looking after its security? We are good at this and we need to be fully involved.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

Let me assure the noble Lord that we continue to partake in discussions about this. I agree with his points about the cornerstone of the alliance and particularly the work of NATO to ensure not just peace and security across Europe but its benefits further afield as well. It is essential that, as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, whatever partnership its remaining members choose to take forward, opportunities remain for co-operation directly with NATO of which the United Kingdom is an important and pivotal part.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister recall the position paper published only a couple of months ago on our constructive and useful co-operation with the EU in foreign policy and defence during the last 40 years, which left open the question of how we shall continue it? Does this development not make it more urgent for the Government to spell out how they will do this? Does he not agree that the Foreign Secretary’s response that we welcome it, we wish to co-operate and our relationship will be like that of a flying buttress to a cathedral—a very overused phrase intended to confuse us all—was inadequate?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was reiterating the importance of our continued relationship with the European Union while we remain a member of it, but also that we want a different but strong partnership with it once we leave. That includes these two important areas of defence and security, which we have just touched on and in which the UK has led the way. We are making our view known that an option should remain within Permanent Structured Cooperation in those areas of defence and security for third countries to join at an appropriate time for whatever projects are perceived to be of mutual importance to both—be it NATO and, say, this new organisation, in whatever shape or form it takes. This would allow the UK to continue to co-operate with European partners after we leave the EU.

Photo of Lord Ricketts Lord Ricketts Crossbench

My Lords, may I endorse what the Minister says about the importance of continuing co-operation with the EU? If this initiative leads to improved European defence capacity, it would be a good thing for this country and we ought to be looking to continue working in European military missions around the world, as we have been doing, where they are in our interests.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

I agree with the noble Lord. When we look at the detail of some of the projects—not just in defence and security; it could be, for example, hospitals that have been created through defence interventions in certain parts of the world—it is our view that projects that resonate with the common objectives of the United Kingdom and, importantly, those of NATO should continue to provide the opportunity for continued co-operation after the UK leaves the European Union.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My Lords, given the less than clear commitment of the US to NATO, and given that we, after Brexit, will be looking for a new role in the world, surely that role in defence should be pivotal in Europe. What Europe needs is combat power and, as my noble friend the Admiral has pointed out, this is an area in which we are uniquely able to assist. This is no time to be stepping away from Europe. Why were the Government not more involved in the development of PESCO and do they intend to put more effort into getting closer to Europe so that we may play a proper role in the future?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

As has been said numerous times, first and foremost, yes. I refer back to our discussions on the previous Oral Question about where we stand: the UK is leaving the European Union but, as I have said repeatedly from this Dispatch Box, we are not in any way stepping away from our obligations. There will be co-operation, particularly in the areas of defence and security, which are important not just to the remaining members of the European Union but to the United Kingdom as a member of the European continent and a member of NATO. Co-operation and partnership are key, and we look forward to a renewed but different style of partnership with our European Union partners. We will continue to co-operate in areas of common interest.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Chair, International Relations Committee

My Lords, in reference to the previous Question and this one, is it not worth bearing in mind that, in modern warfare, algorithms are as relevant and powerful as armouries? We are now moving into a stage where the very high level of technology, communications, connections and cyberwarfare is just as important as manpower on the ground and hard-power equipment. Can my noble friend assure us that, in all areas of technology relating to cyberwarfare, we will keep extremely close to our neighbours and our allies in NATO, and that this is the most important area of co-operation of all? Without it, we are lost.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My noble friend raises the very important point that the challenges that we face in the modern age are very different from what they were 20 or 30 years ago. I agree with him on the principles that he raises and reassure him that, as we discuss it with our American allies and our European allies, there will remain strong co-operation on ensuring that we work on cyberdefences collaboratively.