Damien Phillips is a public affairs consultant.
Julian Thompson, the Major-General who led the commando landings during the Falklands War, and who now serves as Chairman for the Veterans for Britain campaign group, has been closely following the development of UK defence and security policy since the EU referendum – and his observations are disturbing as we move towards the Brexit negotiation ‘endgame’.
He believes that “the UK has been ambushed over post-Brexit defence arrangements. The withdrawal proposals would keep the UK in a range of programmes and policies led by the EU. This proximity cannot be granted in the terms that the Government’s proposals suggest: we would be under EU power. The practical consequence is a loss of UK sovereign foreign policy autonomy and a loss of UK political powers over its defence establishment.”
The ‘KitKat Tapes’, revealed earlier this year, showed key Whitehall officials boasting that the defence and foreign policy deal sought by the UK on Brexit would be akin to a chocolate layer hiding UK ties to Brussels. Caught on tape was Alasdair Brockbank, Defence Adviser to Oliver Robbins. He claimed that civil servants are actively working to keep the UK in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).
Brockbank also said that the plan is for the UK to opt back into the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs programme after the transition period comes to an end in 2021. Such an outcome would entail the UK being much more directly under the auspices of the European Court of Justice than the Prime Minister would care to admit, since the ECJ oversees large swathes of EU judicial programmes, such as the European Arrest Warrant.
The EU views security and justice as inextricably linked: its Justice and Home Affairs Council has the explicit aim of creating an “EU-wide area of freedom, security and justice”. And only yesterday, Angela Merkel called for a “real, true” European Army.
So far, the Government has presented UK cooperation with the EU on such matters as uncontroversial and desirable. May’s Chequers proposal aims for an arrangement that provides “a legal basis for future cooperation on the basis of existing EU law enforcement and criminal justice tools”; one that is underpinned by “the principle of mutual recognition and trust between member states.”
However, senior officials on both sides of the Channel are suffering under a dangerous delusion about the integrity of EU members. Take, for example, the soon-to-be anointed President of the Council of the European Union, effectively the flagship nation of the EU, which rotates every six months. From January 2019, the position will be held by Romania – recently derided by Due Process, a leading cross-party NGO, as the worst human rights abuser in the EU. Its rule of law crisis has now become so grave that the former Director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, has called for dramatic action to restore confidence in its judicial system amid escalating concerns about how its so-called anti-corruption drive has fundamentally undermined due process, basic human rights – and long been manifestly corrupt itself.
The former Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, wrote to Romania’s President to express his outrage at the “continuing damage to the rule of law in Romania being done under the guise of effective law enforcement”. He highlighted the widespread intimidation of judges, defence lawyers, and witnesses. He also rightly decried the unconstitutional phone tapping, the forced confessions and the unfair judicial processes presided over by the former Chief Prosecutor of the Romanian National Anticorruption Directorate, Laura Kovesi. She is the prosecutor hilariously lauded as “Miss Justice” by the pro-EU Economist magazine, who erroneously claimed she had been sacked for ‘being too good at her job’.
Back in the real world, a series of secret protocols uncovered by Romanian journalists show unlawful and widespread collusion between the Romanian intelligence services and every single arm of the Romanian government and judiciary, going back as far as 2005. They reveal a country that is ruled by a shadowy, unelected cabal of intelligence officers and one that has barely moved on from the days of the old Communist deep state.
Figures from across the UK’s political spectrum have been warning about the dangers of close judicial and security cooperation with EU members like Romania for several years. These include Andrew Robathan, the former Conservative Defence Minister, and David Clark, the former special adviser to Robin Cook. Indeed, their views are further reinforced by the prescient warnings of John Scarlett, the former head of MI6, as well as others in and around Britain’s intelligence community.
Security and justice are both areas in which the UK should be much more discerning about who it cooperates with and to what extent. Richard Dearlove, another former MI6 head, pointed out, “Britain is Europe’s leader in intelligence and security matters and gives much more than it gets in return.” Our European partners can be unreliable and, in cases like Romania, dangerously compromised. Germany is another example. Its increasing dependence on Russian energy, particularly with the two countries pressing ahead with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and a worrying pro-Putin tendency starting to dominate at the highest levels in German politics, is at odds with the UK’s justified hostility to the Putin regime.
The Cabinet may thus end up backing today a very bad security deal for Britain. It is not inconceivable that Theresa May, and those senior civil servants set on a Brexit in name only, could exploit the Cabinet’s ignorance of the real facts on the ground to weaponise the seemingly uncontroversial need for cooperation on these issues during today’s discussion of the deal overall.
A comprehensive soft Brexit package that covers trade, foreign policy, security and justice is thus set to be presented by the Prime Minister, at the eleventh hour as a fait accompli. Potential Cabinet opponents may thus be manoeuvered onto a political killing ground – pressured into voting for a take-it-or-leave-it deal, pre-emptively labelled as weak on Britain’s national security and soft on crime if they don’t back it, with conveniently timed dire predictions made about the threat to the UK if collaboration on security and justice with the EU should cease due to “Brexiteer intransigence”.
To head off this potential ambush, Cabinet members must arm themselves with the arguments and the evidence that a proper Brexit is vital for UK defence, our national security and for the integrity of British justice. Should they fail, the consequences for the country may be grave.