My Lords, I rise to move the Motion at the request of my noble friend Lady Verma, who sadly cannot be with us today and in whose name the original Motion stood. In doing so, I place on record my thanks to her for her thoughtful and inclusive chairmanship of our committee, as well as to my committee colleagues and our invariably excellent and conscientious staff.
Our report focused on the UK’s role in the European Union’s common security and defence policy—CSDP—post Brexit. The report was published no less than a year ago but, like a good wine, it has matured satisfactorily in the past 12 months. In any case, defence and security are always front-page news, and rightly so. The European Union deploys these overseas missions and operations in support of peacekeeping and conflict prevention, with the aim of strengthening international security. Currently, there are no less than 16 such missions; six are classified as military and 10 as civilian. Despite this difference of nomenclature, their value by comparison with a typical NATO or UN mission is in their comprehensiveness: they bring together military, political, diplomatic, economic and legal expertise, which the UN and NATO are sometimes unable to do.
The UK has played a significant role in many of these missions. A particularly good example is Operation Atalanta, the anti-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa. Some Members may have seen “Captain Phillips”, in which a Maersk container ship was stopped by a small piratical boat packed with Somalis. The hero was played by Tom Hanks who, of course, managed to beat off the attack. The film is fascinating, for anyone who has not seen it, to see exactly how it all worked and how a small boat could literally stop in its tracks and invade or attack a large container ship. Being a US film, no Brits are mentioned in the episode but the fact of the matter is that our naval forces deployed off the Horn of Africa have led to a dramatic drop in the amount of piracy in those waters. We did not think it wise necessarily to go to the Horn of Africa—we thought about expenditure as well—but we went to our services HQ in Northwood and how it had all been done was demonstrated to us.
The amount of seaborne traffic travelling off the Horn of Africa is enormous, frankly; it is adjacent to the Strait of Hormuz, with its equally huge amount of seaborne traffic. A high proportion of the world’s seaborne traffic goes through those waters; it is therefore extremely important that it is safe. In fact, I believe that the US Navy now contributes a huge proportion of its assets to defending the Strait of Hormuz. I will not take that point any further; otherwise, President Trump will no doubt ask us to contribute more to the cost. It is important that we remain involved with that sort of task. It is very much in our interests as both a trading nation and a good international neighbour.
We made three recommendations in the report for the post-Brexit situation. The first is that the Government should develop and submit “detailed proposals” for the future CSDP consultation. Secondly, they should,
“seek to negotiate observer status in the EU’s planning and decision-making bodies, such as the Political and Security Committee”.
Thirdly, they should invest extra resources in Brussels and the other European Union capitals.
On the first point—proposals for consultation—the political declaration which was endorsed by the Government and the 27 other nations of Europe last November allows the UK to participate in the CSDP on a case-by-case basis. That will be formalised in a so-called framework participation agreement. It also envisages that if the UK does contribute to a specific CSDP mission, it will participate in the force generation conference, the call for contributions and the Committee of Contributors. I ask my noble friend: is this the sort of arrangement that third countries get automatically when they contribute to European Union operations or is it special, different or enhanced in any way beyond what has been the standard procedure so far? I ask this in the light of the fact that in the Government’s own White Paper last year, it was said that the UK should deploy its forces subject to contingent agreements about how it will be involved in the planning process. Obviously, the earlier we can be involved in the planning process, the better. If we can be involved from day one, that is good. Is that going to be the standard pattern that the Government are trying to arrive at with the European Union?
On the second point about observer status, the Government’s response to our report said that there will be “regular dialogue” and ad hoc meetings with the EU Political and Security Committee in informal sessions. That is fine, but it is certainly not about trying to get observer status. Is it still the Government’s objective to try to get that status on the EU Political and Security Committee? On resources, I welcome the fact that seven ambassadorial posts inside the EU have been upgraded and no fewer than 50 new diplomatic post have been created. Can my noble friend update us on that very welcome situation?
Finally, we believe—and intend—that we are going to have a new political relationship with the European Union, but the geography has not changed. We are small. We are a group of islands off the coast of continental Europe and it is therefore absolutely in our interests on security and defence grounds that we co-operate as much as we possibly can, and we have important assets to bring to the game. That is the burden of our report. I beg to move.