What Does EU Defence Cooperation Mean For Brexit Britain?

Brexit Party MEP Jake Pugh revealed to the Daily Express that Brussels is attempting to integrate EU member states’ armed forces into a united body independent from NATO. He unveiled a document on Twitter entitled The Future of Warfare in which pro-EU politicians are asking for military integration and strategic autonomy. Tory MP Steve Baker labelled the proposal as ‘astonishing.’ It appears that the EU is creating a defence union by stealth, which may pave the way for an EU Army in the long-term. In between the time Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016 to the present day, there is a risk that this country has already signed up to Brussels’ plans without realising.

Research compiled by Veterans for Britain has revealed the breathtaking extent to which the UK could already be integrated into a European defence union under a treaty-based framework called Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). It aims to jointly develop defence capabilities and make them available for EU military operations. PESCO is closely connected to the new Coordinated Annual Review on Defence and the European Defence Fund. The EU Defence Agency (EDA) provides an important central role in policy development to add to its research and strategy functions. European defence is awarded with a significant budget.

PESCO concentrates mostly on two types of risk: institutional and strategy. The first one includes standing formations and commitments whilst the second includes policy, training, ethos and legal oversight. Veterans for Britain suggests there is a lack of clarity among civil servants over what the UK will be signing up to after Brexit. For example, regarding PESCO’s strategic areas, British ministers have signed off the European Defence Action Plan, which sets out a €5 billion objective for spending on capability. This paves the way for a Single Market for defence and EU engagement in security of supply.

Furthermore, the Government’s Foreign Policy, Defence and Development Future Partnership Paper discusses Britain’s post-Brexit cooperation with the EU. No UK minister has stated that this country will not participate in this institutional area of PESCO after October 31st. Britain is also planning to lead in another institutional scheme called the EU Battlegroups beyond Brexit, which is a mechanism for small scale deployments usually involving more than one EU member state on an EU mission. There is no point in Britain maintaining its participation in the EU Battlegroups if this nation is unable to have a seat at the table that makes decisions on this area after October 31st. This proves the Government is sleepwalking into PESCO integration.

The Guardian reports that Boris Johnson has told Brussels that he wants to rewrite the defence pledges in the current Withdrawal Agreement. However, this only suggests the Government wants looser cooperation, not that it intends to abandon PESCO completely. Theresa May’s deal fails to address this flaw and prevents Britain from regaining total sovereignty over how its defence assets are used.

Post-Brexit, the UK should depend upon NATO for defence cooperation, but PESCO has the potential to weaken decades of cooperation with the US. Ellen Lord, US Under Secretary of Defence, and Andrea Thompson, Under Secretary of State, wrote a joint letter to Federica Mogherini warning that PESCO would prevent companies based outside the EU from participating in military projects. The Trump administration has threatened various responses that would unlikely be positive for either side, undermining the cooperation and security America and Europe both need when Russia, China and Iran continue to present an increasing threat to both continents.

The Government must proceed with caution when signing up to European defence initiatives. Though their desire to maintain cooperation and security with the EU post-Brexit is based on good faith, politicians are sleepwalking into a trap that could undermine decades of cooperation with the US and NATO in general. After October 31st, this will be one of the many areas of European integration the UK must untangle itself from.