Ben Brittain is a Senior Researcher in Public Policy, Non-Ex Director for Groundwork West Midlands, and a postgrad with the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security.
Behind the scenes, the European Commission has laid the foundations for continental-wide military control, by which member states armed forces appear to be separate and distinct, but where policy, finance and intelligence will be controlled centrally. Even equipment purchasing will be increasingly amalgamated, forming the economic lure for further political participation. Meanwhile, the multi-layered power-grab has also seen mergers in force structure and command and, despite the vote for Brexit, the UK is now heavily embroiled in Jean-Claude Junker’s grand military vision.
The scandal is that at every EU Council the Prime Minister has signed off on the Commission’s proposals. This is despite public efforts by the FCO and the MOD to dismiss the proposals as insignificant; a smokescreen to disguise the proposal’s real significance. A closer look at European Union documents reveal the scale and ambition of the Commission’s plans for a continental wide European Union Force, which the UK is now signed up to and seemingly set to take a full role in even after Brexit. The UK has signalled its participation in Juncker’s defence projects and, by doing so, has committed itself until at least March 2022, the end of the mooted Brexit transition phase, or perhaps even longer.
It is a classic Brussels advance – and EU Commissioners could not have made it more difficult to discern if they had tried. There are several interlinking documents, containing loads of subtle changes wrapped in warm sentiments. The documents were drip-fed over several months and were often agreed on the same day they were published. Granular details would emerge later, followed by yet more rushed agreements.
The agreements gained by the EU took place between November 2016 and June this year (ironically concluding a day before the anniversary of the Brexit vote). UK government officials, already hard-pushed to produce proposals for the Brexit process, would have found the process impossible to follow. The agreements were spread across so many areas of government that it’s unlikely that any single team of British officials would have had a remit to understand or advise on all of them at once.
So far, the UK has agreed to an EU centralised defence procurement policy, wide-ranging financial plans, a wide-scale expansion and centralisation of intelligence, whereby the UK is obliged to propose links to MI5 and MI6. There was even UK agreement for Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) – the euphemistic term for the core component of what EU politicians call ‘EU Defence Union’ – providing the EU with a defence capability that does not require all EU states to agree or participate.
This is alongside the UK’s concession to EU plans for an EU military headquarters in Brussels, which will centrally control and command exercises, deployments and strategic policy. The only UK success was to remove the word ‘headquarters’ in favour of ‘capability’. The name change merely succeeds in accentuating the deception being carried out by the EU Commission planners. Whitehall officials have dismissed the EU military HQ as ‘nothing more than a call centre’, but this fails to acknowledge how powerful the EU Commission plans the HQ to be, and where it sits in the landscape of policy and finance. Despite a fruitless UK effort to change the HQ’s remit after having agreed to it, the HQ will have growing strategic, operational, advisory and command functions, with the ability to immediately tap member states’ military resources, and even to directly control assets that member states will soon designate as ‘jointly owned’.
This plunges into doubt whether Brexit does indeed mean Brexit since, in fact, the UK has become a full member of Junker’s military plans.
To sign up to wide-ranging and long-lasting defence agreements without parliamentary approval or scrutiny is an egregious dismissal of the supremacy of Britain’s parliament. Brexit-supporting Conservative backbenchers, suspicious of a federal Europe, should be concerned about what a dual military structure means for security in Europe.
The security of Europe is dependent on the strength of the transatlantic alliance via NATO. The EU’s Defence Union risks replicating NATO, which in times of crisis could see the US and Europe pursue different strategic aims and goals. This can only risk division between the United States and Europe. This dangerous possibility means that Junker’s defence plans will ultimately undermine NATO and undermine European security. The EU has even declared ‘defence decision-making autonomy from NATO’. Donald Trump, who has persistently called for greater burden sharing in NATO, will not look kindly at the EU Commission using his words as an excuse to augment their own powers and dreams of statehood.
The decision by the British public to leave the European Union expressed more than anything the public’s faith in Parliamentary sovereignty. As the Prime Minister conducts significant Brexit negotiations, it would be a betrayal of that vote were she to surrender any more control of Britain’s defence policy in exchange for control over borders or trading policy. The British public did not vote to exchange control of one thing for another, and the Government faces the urgent task of undoing what it has agreed. The Prime Minister must resist the EU’s dangerous defence plans at every corner, or risk undermining the NATO alliance which has given Europe its umbrella of peace for nearly 70 years.