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 7:32 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 7:32 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, let me begin by congratulating the members of the EU External Affairs Sub-Committee on their report, and by thanking my noble friend Lord Horam for his excellent introduction. I am equally grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken for sharing their knowledge and experience of defence and security policy in what has been a very useful debate.

As noble Lords are aware, the sub-committee’s report was published in May 2018. Since then, there have been significant changes resulting from the negotiations on our exit from the European Union. Notably, the terms of the withdrawal agreement explicitly rule out the UK commanding missions during the implementation period that would follow our exit. Accordingly, as pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, we have handed over the operational headquarters of Operation Atalanta—the counter-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa—from Northwood, just north of here, to Rota in Spain. Likewise, the operational command of Operation Althea has transferred from NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Sir James Everard, to a French three-star general.

In May 2018, when the sub-committee’s report was published, there were around 120 UK personnel deployed to CSDP operations and missions. A year later, due to the conditions set out in the withdrawal agreement and the withdrawal of HMS “Echo” from Operation Sophia, we find ourselves with a much smaller footprint: today, the UK deploys 33 personnel. While the number of UK personnel in operations and missions is small, I need hardly say that the quality of their input is high, and they provide significant contributions in their roles.

The report makes clear, as have a number of speakers today, that our participation in CSDP operations and missions makes a significant contribution to a number of the UK’s foreign policy priorities, from the Horn of Africa to the western Balkans. CSDP missions and operations utilise member states’ considerable expertise to carry out long-term activities in complex circumstances, often to support the host nation to deliver a critical part of government. With these difficulties in mind, member states recognise that concrete results cannot be achieved overnight.

Europe’s security is our security and the Government have made clear their commitment to maintain it. Therefore, once the UK has left the EU, and in the event of a deal and therefore an implementation period, we intend to maintain a presence in those CSDP missions and operations where it is in our mutual interests to do so.

With a longer-term view, we have set out proposals for a new security partnership with the European Union, as a third country. The political declaration agreed alongside the withdrawal agreement in November last year provides the basis for a flexible and scalable future security partnership. This would allow for UK contributions to CSDP missions and operations on a case-by-case basis, building on existing frameworks for third-country participation.

I welcomed a good deal of the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, who correctly drew attention to the valuable contribution that the UK has made to EU missions and operations over the years. I agree with him that not only have we played a useful part in such missions but the missions themselves have supported some key UK policy priorities. Where I depart from him, and other noble Lords, is over the criticisms of the EU withdrawal agreement and the political declaration in terms of what may lie ahead for our future defence relationship.

The deal the UK has reached with the EU will provide for the broadest and most comprehensive security relationship the EU has ever had with another country. On defence, the political declaration is quite explicit in setting out that the UK and the EU welcome close co-operation in operations and missions, both civilian and military, in the future relationship. This co-operation would enable the UK to tailor its contributions and participate on a case-by-case basis through a framework participation agreement. The detail of such an agreement will need to be negotiated, but there is no dissent over its key elements. The UK and the EU would be able to exchange information.

As a contributor to a specific CSDP mission or operation, the UK would be there at the very start. As my noble friend Lord Horam made clear, the UK would participate in the force generation conference, the call for contributions and the Committee of Contributors meeting to enable information sharing about the implementation of the mission or operation. It should also have the possibility to second staff to the designated operation’s headquarters, proportionate to the level of its contribution. All this is recognition by the Commission that a perfectly reasonable quid pro quo for our involvement in an EU mission or operation is to be closely involved in the planning stages. Therefore, I do not share the view of the right reverend Prelate that our leverage will somehow be reduced.

My noble friend Lord Horam asked whether what we are asking for is in line with what third countries have achieved in similar circumstances or is a special set of arrangements. The current involvement of third countries in force generation, planning and oversight of operations is simply not adequate to enable the kind of deep co-operation we seek. The political declaration envisages a better-than-standard third-country relationship on the CSDP. In particular, it sets out in broad terms arrangements whereby the level of involvement in operational planning would be commensurate with the level of our contribution. We would not envisage being involved in the planning of operations we were not involved in, but we should be able to scale up our co-operation when our input to an operation is significant.

My noble friend Lord Horam and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about UK observer status on the Political and Security Committee. Given that the detail of our future partnership has yet to be agreed, my best response to them is to quote from the political declaration, which says that,

“the future relationship should provide for appropriate dialogue, consultation, coordination, exchange of information and cooperation mechanisms”.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, also took the Government to task over the negotiations relating to Galileo. The Commission took a very hard line on this. We made it clear that we would continue to participate in the Galileo programme only on a basis that would enable us to rely on Galileo for our national security and allow UK companies to compete fairly and openly for all Galileo contracts. We felt that, given the UK’s contribution to Galileo to date, which has been significant, this was a perfectly reasonable ask. Unfortunately, the offer on the table from the European Commission does not meet our requirements for participation. That is not a failure of negotiation on our part. The Commission decided that this was not a matter on which negotiation was possible.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and other noble Lords, we are absolutely clear what our future partnership with the EU should look like. It should be centred on three pillars. At the diplomatic level, we should have in place structured consultation on strategic priorities, underpinned by regular dialogue with the EU and member states on thematic and geographic issues so that we can tackle global issues together. We should also have the means to co-ordinate activity and action. That could mean the UK contributing to EU operations or missions, as I said, or to EU development programmes, as well as co-ordinating the implementation of sanctions. There is also a clear benefit to facilitating a collaborative and inclusive approach to European capability development and planning, including R&D. This is about being able, where we choose, to combine our efforts to best effect in pursuit of our mutual interests. Any agreement we reach must therefore be flexible, allowing the UK and the EU to respond effectively to situations as they arise. It is especially important that the partnership respects the sovereignty of the UK and the autonomy of the EU.

The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, asked whether we thought the Committee of Contributors was a satisfactory set of arrangements. We do not feel that it is, as currently figured. While it provides information and a degree of oversight of operations, it does not allow third-country involvement in planning processes where that will be necessary to enable that country to contribute significantly. That is why we secured provision in the political declaration to intensify co-operation in the planning of a mission, proportionate to our level of contribution, as I said.

The noble Baroness also referred to the strength of UKRep. We will continue to play a leading role alongside EU partners in buttressing and promoting European security and influence around the world, as I have said. We aim to enhance our strong bilateral relationships with our European partners and beyond. To that end, I can confirm that UKRep will see its staff numbers increase from 130 to 180 personnel. Of that uplift, I am afraid I cannot confirm at the moment how many will be working on CSDP or security more broadly because that is yet to be agreed.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Helic for her powerful speech. I endorse her main point that Europe’s security is our security. The UK, the EU and its member states share the same values and interests. The UK will remain a committed partner, deploying our significant assets, expertise, intelligence and capabilities to protect and promote them as a leading NATO ally and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. However, the CSDP is just one part of a suite of tools the UK uses in, for instance, the western Balkans, the Sahel or the Horn of Africa, or against illegal migration piracy. For instance, last summer the Prime Minister announced a 95% increase of funding to the western Balkans, up to £80 million, and doubled the number of staff working in the region on security issues.

My noble friend asked what would happen in the event of no deal. As she is aware, the sub-committee’s report did not consider the impact of a no-deal Brexit, but in such an event a separate agreement would be needed for UK troops to continue as part of EU missions and operations, such as Operation Althea. We have made clear to the EU that we are open to reaching such an agreement to ensure continuity of the UK’s contribution to the operation. We have made contingency plans for UK military personnel taking part in Operation Althea. The UK’s other commitments in the western Balkans, including our support to NATO’s KFOR in Kosovo, will not be affected by any EU exit scenario.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to Kosovo, and in particular the future direction of EULEX. EULEX’s monitoring and operational mandate will continue until June 2020. The UK remains strongly supportive of EULEX’s work and the Kosovo Specialist Chambers & Specialist Prosecutor’s Office. Leaving the EU does not change the importance that the UK places on delivering justice for victims and ensuring that war criminals are held accountable. Strengthening the rule of law in Kosovo is important to the UK’s national interests. This is one of the key areas addressed by the Government’s commitment of £80 million in programme funds for the western Balkans this financial year.

The noble Earl also referred to Operation Sophia. Its current mandate expires on 30 September this year. Member states will continue to discuss a way forward towards a sustainable disembarkation solution, as well as the future of the operation. Until then, the operation continues to perform its tasks. Coastguard training modules are now planned for later in the year to take place in Italy, Croatia and Greece. All training provisions are subject to the security situation in Libya, which at the moment does not allow trainees to transit in and out of the country.

The noble Earl referred to our assistance to the Government of Ukraine. EU exit does not change the UK’s commitment to Ukraine. The UK will remain a major global actor and permanent member of the UN Security Council, continuing to collaborate closely with European and global partners to achieve our shared objectives. I am sure he will be reassured to know that, in this financial year, the UK is providing over £35 million to Ukraine to support a range of areas, including governance reform, anti-corruption, accountability in communications, conflict stability and security, humanitarian issues, human rights, and education and culture.

The noble Lords, Lord Dannatt and Lord Tunnicliffe, returned to a theme familiar to our debates: the size of the defence budget and, by extension, our Armed Forces. I cannot add materially to the comments I made in our recent debate on the 70th anniversary of NATO, but I gently point out that our defence budget is not reducing; it is growing. We did not spend just 2% of GDP on defence in the last financial year; we spent appreciably more than that. We also met our NATO commitment to spend 20% of our budget on equipment and research. The cornerstone—indeed, the bulwark—of our defence is NATO. The EU certainly can and does complement NATO’s role, but I cannot agree with the right reverend Prelate that the political declaration leaves the UK punching below our weight in defence terms. We remain the most significant European member of NATO. We are determined that our growing bilateral relationships with friends and allies, both in Europe and globally, will ensure no diminution in our soft power or the levers we use to exercise it. We are the only G20 nation to meet the NATO 2% target on defence spending and the UN target of 0.7% on development. Our commitment to European and global security as a leading global actor is every bit as great as it has always been.

I shall of course write to those noble Lords whose questions I have not addressed, but I conclude by saying that I am, as ever, reassured by the depth of expertise on these subjects that exists in your Lordships’ House. As the UK leaves the EU, I can only stress once again the UK’s commitment to maintaining and enhancing European security and continuing our co-operation with the EU on all aspects of our security relationship, including the main focus of this debate: the missions and operations that fall under the banner of the common security and defence policy.