Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:55 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 6:55 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and I pay tribute to her for her consistent championing of the UK agri-food industry throughout this whole Brexit process. This evening she has again made a knowledgeable contribution. My contribution will be restricted to the defence and security issues referred to in chapter 2 of the White Paper. I say to the Minister that it deserved more than four or five sentences in his opening remarks.

Without wishing to devalue the importance of the issues which have dominated this debate, I remind your Lordships’ House that the Government’s first duty is to protect the public, and that both the Government and the EU are agreed that the maintenance of shared security capabilities between the EU and the UK is essential to keeping citizens in the UK and the EU safe.

When the Leader of the House repeated the Prime Minister’s Statement on exiting the EU, she reminded us—supported by the Minister, who was nodding his head furiously—that, post Brexit, the Government sought to achieve an “ambitious”, or, as Dominic Raab now says, an unrivalled “future security partnership” with the EU, and sought to reassure your Lordships’ House that:

“We are working very constructively with our EU partners”.

The noble Baroness went on to explain by example, saying that,

“since the Salisbury incident we have led work with them to propose a package of measures to step up our communications against online disinformation, strengthen our capabilities against cybersecurity threats and further reduce the threat from hostile intelligence agencies. We have an excellent relationship in this area”.—[Official Report, 9/7/18; col. 817.]

This is of course commendable, but these are examples of co-operation within the current situation—within the European Union—and, with respect, are no indication of progress or likely progress to the achievement of our post-Brexit ambitions, which are set out so extensively and ambitiously in the White Paper.

Since her Munich security conference speech, our Prime Minister has repeatedly called for a defence and security treaty by 2019—just five or so months away. Just how well are we doing? To aid our deliberations today, we have the recently published excellent report of the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee of the European Union Select Committee: Brexit: the Proposed UK EU Security Treaty. I regret that I am unable to do justice to this report today, but I hope that before long, your Lordships’ House will have an opportunity to debate it. In the meantime, I draw attention to an important conclusion, which is summarised in the report’s executive summary, at the first paragraph at the top of page 4, and which I will shorten in the interests of time:

“We have, however, seen no evidence that sufficient progress has yet been made towards negotiating a comprehensive security treaty. On balance … we believe that it is unlikely that such a treaty can be agreed in the time available”.

So it appears that we are to go out of the European Union without this treaty.

On this, as on many other aspects of Brexit, the Government are failing the British people. Far from improving, the situation is deteriorating. There are two separate but complementary aspects to this negotiation: externally, defence and foreign policy, and an internal security aspect, which is significant for our security. No part of the EU withdrawal agreement relating to internal security is in green, which means that agreement has not yet been reached on any issue.

On 19 June, speaking at the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna, Michel Barnier said that the EU and the UK will “co-operate strongly” on security post Brexit, but he urged the UK to show “more realism” on the degree of co-operation possible and warned that the UK will lose access to Europol databases and the Schengen Information System, as well as the right to participate in the European arrest warrant, and that new procedures for “effective” information exchange will need to be agreed urgently.

On the external side, within days of the Munich speech, apparently because of the logistical problems caused by Brexit, the UK informed the chairman of the European Union Military Committee that, contrary to a previous and extant agreement, it would no longer be the lead nation in a battlegroup for EU defence in 2019, causing understandable concern about our commitment to EU defence after Brexit, despite the Prime Minister’s repeated assurances otherwise. We have discovered from the EU’s High Representative, Federica Mogherini, that we can have a security partnership with the EU but as a third party, not as a partner. The European Commission has stressed the bloc’s status as a members-only club, seeing Britain as a third-party outsider post Brexit.

Apparently the Government are very disappointed that the UK will indeed be a third country in the glorious post-Brexit future. At least, that is what the then Minister for Defence Procurement, Guto Bebb, told the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee when he appeared before it on 26 June to explain developments in co-operation on the Galileo project. Presumably expecting to be part of Galileo, Bebb explained that the UK had expected to land about a quarter of the next round of the valuable Galileo contracts but, following the Brexit referendum, that figure had at least halved and direct job losses would be measured in the hundreds. This is partly because in future, all Galileo contracts will include a break clause, which we agreed to and which means that the EU can get out of them if the contractor is not an EU member, effectively freezing out British companies.

Now, anticipating that we will be locked out of Galileo altogether—only yesterday according to the Prime Minister—we are preparing for the eventuality that we will need our own satellite. Perhaps when he winds up, the Minister can indicate whether that is expected to be part of or in addition to the existing defence budget, costing more than the £20 billion that is being asked for to meet the already large procurement hole in that budget.

The fact is that, despite the UK and the EU being uniquely bound by common interests and values, despite the absence in the UK of any party-political difference on these issues, and despite the fact that even the Cabinet has been united on them all along the line, progress on a negotiated partnership under a treaty is at best lamentable and at worst negative. We have in UK-EU security an example of just how successful a negotiator our Prime Minister and her Government can be when they have a united Cabinet and a united country behind them—and it is not encouraging.

I have four short questions for the Minister. First, have formal negotiations on the post-Brexit security relationship between the EU and Britain yet started? Secondly, if not, when do the Government expect them to begin? Thirdly, if they have started, since the Munich security conference what progress have we made in negotiating a deep and meaningful security arrangement with the EU? Finally, what does a no-deal, hard Brexit on defence and security look like for the security of the people of the United Kingdom?