Brexit: Common Security and Defence Policy Missions and Operations (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 7:15 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, the 26-page political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, published in November last year, starts with platitudes and continues with platitudes, including in “Part III: Security Partnership”, under the heading “Objectives and principles”:

“With a view to Europe’s security and the safety of their respective citizens, the Parties should establish a broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership”.

Under “Foreign policy security and defence” it mentions the UN, NATO, the common foreign and security policy and the common security and defence policy. It states:

“The future relationship should therefore enable the United Kingdom to participate on a case by case basis in CSDP missions and operations through a Framework Participation Agreement”,

and that we,

“should consider appropriate arrangements for cooperation on space”.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, the noble Lord, Lord Horam, and the committee on the report Brexit: Common Security and Defence Policy Missions and Operations. How do we co-operate under the CSDP? To summarise:

“EU member states pool funding and resources to achieve agreed common goals, including: humanitarian and rescue missions … conflict prevention and peacekeeping … joint disarmament operations … military advice and assistance … crisis management … post-conflict stabilisation”.

The majority of missions,

“carried out through the CSDP are civilian, as opposed to military missions”.

We have heard that such EU missions include Operation Althea, Operation Atalanta and Operation Sophia.

The UK is without doubt the EU’s strongest defence power and has a huge amount of influence. On the other hand, right up front in these negotiations the EU has already said that UK contractors will not be able to participate in the military element of the Galileo satellite system. The report clearly states:

“The UK’s departure from the EU places a question mark over its future participation in Common Security and Defence Policy … missions and operations. As an EU Member State, the UK has influenced the development and planning of all missions and operations … After Brexit, the framework for the UK … is unclear”.

Will the Minister give us some clarification?

As we have seen, the political declaration is so far the square root of diddly-squat. To date:

“The UK’s principal contribution on CSDP has been strategic guidance … The UK’s contribution of personnel … has been limited … The UK has also provided assets … The UK will almost certainly continue to derive value from participation in current CSDP missions”,

but if it becomes a third country it will not have a role in the planning and decision-making, which,

“would not give the UK the influence that it currently enjoys”.

The report very clearly states that we lose our influence. It further states:

“The level of influence the Government seeks goes well beyond the scope of the existing model for third country participation”.

Again there is a wish list:

“Prospects for changes to this model are uncertain”.

The report states that the committee is concerned about the Government’s high level of aspiration, and:

“Whatever agreement on CSDP missions and operations is reached with the EU, the Government will also need to invest significant resources in Brussels and in Member States’ capitals, to maintain influence from outside the structures of the EU”.

My noble friend Lord Dannatt said very clearly that, as a third country, our influence will be diminished. However, he also said, rightly, that we will continue to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a leading power in NATO, whose 70th anniversary we are celebrating this year—we thank NATO for bringing peace to the world. My noble friend also said that our Armed Forces are respected around the world for their fine quality, but he added that their quantity has been diminished. SDSR 2010 under Defence Secretary Liam Fox was a disaster. In my noble friend’s words, it was a “diminution of our capability”. I completely agree with him that spending 2% of GDP is not enough. As I have said many times before, it should be 3%. The United States spends 4% and, quite frankly, with the threats that we face, we should go back to what we spent in the 1990s and also spend 4%.

Will the Minister confirm what RUSI has said—that if we come out of the CSDP, it will mean,

“the relocation of EU’s anti-piracy headquarters at Northwood”,

and,

“the relocation of the Galileo Security Monitoring Centre”,

to another EU state? Following the publication of this report, a headline from Reuters said:

“UK could lose influence on EU security and defence policy”.

That was the message from the report. The noble Baroness, Lady Helic, referred to the threats that we face. They come from Russia, China, Iran, the far right, Islamic terrorism, jihadi fighters, cyberwarfare, and AI from China. We face all that with reduced defence spending and a loss of co-operation with Europe. Our former Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, talked about how leaving the EU would,

“maximise our influence around the world in the … years ahead”.

Which world is he dreaming in? Frankly, that is absolute rubbish, but of course he is no longer the Defence Secretary. While he was in that role, he asked our Army officers to write 1,000-word essays. That was the influence that he had.

The really important point is security in general. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Martin is leading police preparations for leaving the EU, particularly in a no-deal scenario. He says very clearly that we would lose access to Europe-wide databases such as SIS II—a database of convictions and wanted suspects. We would also lose access to the European arrest warrant, which speeds up extradition and allows arrests if someone is wanted overseas. A loss of these powers would greatly diminish our security. It would mean officers having to go to magistrates and checks taking up to 66 days. All that would threaten our citizens’ security. Richard Martin said:

“There is a tool behind any that we might lose but it’s not a one-for-one capability. Every fallback we have is more bureaucratic, it is slower … We go back to a slower, clunkier place”.

That would impact the rest of the criminal justice system. Without any doubt, all that would leave Britain less safe. He added:

“If you haven’t got access to some of those really critical systems like SIS-2, you probably won’t know what their convictions are”.

Michel Barnier has said:

“I don’t want a no deal but we are prepared for it and we need to be prepared for the implications of a no deal for our security partnership”.

In conclusion, by leaving the EU, even if we go down the EEA/Norway route, we might maintain frictionless trade and it might be good for business, tourists and students but it will mean that we are no longer at the table. We will no longer be at the European Council table or in the European Parliament or have representation in the European Commission. We will no longer have our veto or a say on major items. We will not be at the top table of the largest trading bloc in the world—a bloc of 500 million people. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth put it very well: our country, with 1% of the world’s population, has always punched above its weight. Our soft power is unbeatable, but now we will be punching below our weight. I would go one step further—we will be punching ourselves.

During the referendum, we were scared by the concept of the creation of an EU army, but what we have been debating is not the creation of any EU army, and we have the veto rights never to join an EU army if we do not want to do so. We are part of NATO, which, as I said, is celebrating its 70th anniversary, and we prevented the Cold War succeeding. Peace in the European Union has been brought about not just by NATO but by the EU and NATO.

With the PM’s deal, nothing has been agreed. It is simply uncertainty that continues, regardless of the backstop. Northern Ireland is the Achilles heel of Brexit. The political declaration is absolute waffle and a wish list. Whichever way we look at it, from a security point of view there is no question but that the safest thing for our country and our citizens is to remain in the European Union.