Liam Fox is to tour Eastern European capitals later this year to cement links with like-minded political groups opposed to EU control of security and defence policy.  This news emerged in answer to questions following his speech The European defence tide: can it be turned? to the Centre For Policy Studies last night.  The Warsaw Pact had sought to drive a wedge between the US and Europe, he said, and "it would be a tragedy if the EU achieved what the Warsaw Pact didn’t".

Earlier, in a thoughtful and well-balanced speech, Dr Fox had explained that NATO should remain the cornerstone of British defence policy.  He had no objections to the ostensible aims of the European Defence Agency for boosting overall military expenditure – and it made sense for the UK to develop a portfolio of suppliers (especially in light of disputes with the US over the sharing of software codes for the Joint Strike Fighter project) – but at present the EU was living in a "mindset of denial" and bent on establishing new institutions without any real increase in defence capacity.

The EU is currently failing the three tests set by Madeline Albright: EU plans would duplicate existing provision, sought to decouple the US from Europe, and discriminated against non-EU members of NATO.  Dr Fox robustly denied, however, that a "threshold of irreversbility" had been crossed.  If the European Defence Agency strayed from its remit, by trying to construct a common European defence policy or seeking to introduce qualified majority voting, then a future Conservative Government would have no hesitation in "not co-operating and not funding" that body.

The special relationship with the US would remain central to Tory security policy, but not from the position of a supplicant.  Dr Fox endorsed William Hague’s criticism of Guantanamo – "Frank friends make better partners".

William Norton