Dr Andrew Murrison MP is a former Minister for International Security Strategy, and is MP for South West Wiltshire.
Donald Trump’s frustration with European allies who take the cover but don’t pay the premium is one of his more rational preoccupations. The UK too is a big net contributor to European defence, intelligence and security.
It’s right that the Government is saying publicly that defence and security are non-negotiable in the Brexit merry-go-round. In camera, I hope we are playing to our strengths. Britain’s Armed Forces and its security agencies are world-class. In Europe, only France comes anywhere close. In private, Michel Barnier and his able German deputy, Sabine Weyand, should not be encouraged to take UK defence, security and intelligence assets, among our best cards, for granted.
The talk in Salzburg was that some EU national leaders and hard-over Brussels zealots are cooking up an economic punishment beating for the UK pour encourager les autres. That presents people like me with a problem. I’m wondering how to convince my hard-pressed taxpaying constituents on the edge of Salisbury Plain that the UK assets they pay for should continue to subsidise countries planning to put the dampers on their prosperity. I’d be stretching my powers of persuasion to convince those I serve that they should go the extra mile for neighbours that are at best indifferent to them.
Indifferent contrary to Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty. Article 8 is really rather lovely. It solemnly commits the EU to ‘develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries’ based on ‘cooperation’ in the interests of ‘prosperity’ and ‘good neighbourliness.’ In Salzburg the hills weren’t exactly alive with the sound of that particular mood music.
Let’s be clear. A strong economy and credible defence and security are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other. There’s the paradox: an EU undermining the UK’s economy would undermine our ability, and our political will, to be helpful. And I would not want to be the European politician who has to explain to his public following the next security incident why protecting the purity of the EU’s institutions came before the seamless security cooperation with the UK that could have prevented it.
If that wasn’t enough, we now learn that the UK may be ejected from the EU’s troubled Galileo satellite navigation programme. Galileo is meant to shake off the yoke of the US GPS satellite system. But Brussels’ paranoia doesn’t stop with American satellites. Apparently, outside the EU the UK would become a security threat.No, really. Given Galileo’s reliance on the UK – financially, technically and for sensor hosting – the EU’s position smacks of putting punishment politics before pragmatism and public protection.
Perhaps the way forward is to cut our losses and build our own system with like-minded states starting with the tried and tested Five Eyes intelligence community. However, it is always right to cooperate with neighbours. Shortly, Article 8 won’t bind the UK – but only an idiot would not seek to foster its spirit. Any failure by the EU to do so will have consequences.
If the Galileo threat is more than just another show of playground pique. If, in fact the EU is, really, sufficiently worried about the security implications of Britain’s continued subscription to throw us out of the project, it must then also be fretting over the involvement in Europe of other UK defence, intelligence and security assets. Perhaps then it might like to provide these things for itself.
You can’t expect the UK to be a net contributor in defence, security and intelligence whilst the EU is denying access to things like Galileo. That would be cherry-picking. And as Michel Barnier always points out, that will never do.