European Movement UK

Britain's future is with Europe! Join the debate and put your opinion forward!

By Lord Wallace, Lords government Whip responsible for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office///

There’s a wide gap between the debate leading up to the Euro-elections and the similarly confused public debate about Britain’s foreign policy and security priorities. For UKIP and some on the Conservative Right, France and Germany represent threats to British sovereignty, to which the only answer is withdrawal from the EU. Nigel Farage has offered Iceland and Switzerland as models for a future UK foreign policy, though – in contrast to Iceland’s total dependence on others for its external security – UKIP has also called for a sharp increase in UK defence spending. The unspoken assumption is that Britain can force through a hard negotiation with continental governments on the terms of future economic relations, while largely leaving undamaged our political and security relations with the other European members of NATO.

The crisis in Ukraine has reminded us that European security cannot be taken for granted. British military aircraft are now flying over the Baltic states, to give substance to the NATO guarantee to defend the territorial integrity of its member states. Yet discussions about European security appear to be taboo in the British media, beyond right-wing claims that any moves towards further cooperation threaten to subordinate Britain to ‘a European Army’. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the National Security Strategy has just published a highly critical report. ‘The UK’s future relationship with the EU is vital to national security’, it declares. ‘It worries us that the National Security Council does not consider EU matters, as this risks crucial connections being missed.’

This September the British Government will be hosting a NATO Summit in Cardiff. The United States, having committed itself to a ‘pivot’ towards Asian security, will call for its European partners to do more for their own defence and security, and to maximise their efforts through closer cooperation. Quietly, without wishing to inform the Conservative back-benches, the government has invested in networks of bilateral and multilateral cooperation across Europe. Operation Corsican Lion last year was a major Franco-British exercise, following on from the coalition government’s re-commitment to develop further Franco-British defence cooperation, as agreed by Tony Blair in 1998. Liam Fox as Defence Secretary was enthusiastic for closer cooperation with the Nordic group, not all of which are NATO members. The air strike which knocked out Colonel Gaddafi was jointly flown by British and Belgian aircraft, in an operation over Libya that also involved French, Italian and Dutch contingents. But we cooperate with our European partners almost in secret, for fear of arousing the wrath of the Anglo-Saxon Right.

The 2010 National Security Strategy stood out from its predecessors by its inclusion of a number of non-military threats among the most serious it sees as facing Britain: global epidemics, organised crime and cross-border terrorism , the impact of climate change, and cyber-attack. The European Union is an important player in international action to counter these threats. Europol, which Europhobes want Britain to leave, now works on cyber-crime as well as organised criminal networks and counter-terrorism. Exit from the EU would weaken British security against these growing threats, Liberal Democrats insist. But Eurosceptics consider the re-establishment of political sovereignty more important than accepting the advantages of international cooperation.

European integration never was entirely about economics. Edward Heath and Sir Alec Douglas Home spelt out in the debates on UK accession that membership had implications for foreign policy and defence as well as for trade and regulation. Exploratory talks on UK-French cooperation on defence, including nuclear deterrence, were held in 1971-2. Enlargement to the former Warsaw Pact states of Eastern Europe, since the end of the Cold War, has given those states prosperity and stability, reinforced by accession to NATO – and allowed Britain to cut its defence spending in half over the past 25 years. The contrast between Polish democracy, rule of law and economic growth and the corrupt stagnation within Ukraine has acted as a magnet pulling Ukrainian hopes towards the EU. Yet Europhobe commentary now attacks ‘EU expansionism’ as having provoked the Ukrainian crisis, depicting Ukraine as a far way country of which we know nothing that lies naturally with the Russian sphere of influence.

‘A clear vision of the UK’s goals and role in the world is essential ‘in preparing for the planned 2015 revision of our National Security Strategy, the Joint Committee insists. Preparatory work should now be well under way within Whitehall, ready for whichever government returns to office after the general election; and the committee urges that this must ‘take account of the continuing uncertainty about the UK’s role in Europe.’ Sadly, while the foreign secretary works closely with his German and French colleagues in the ‘E3’ format, on Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine, and now Russia and Ukraine, pressure from Europhobic back-benchers dampens public admission that this is the direction that UK national interest requires. Foreign policy by stealth is not enough. The Euro-election campaign should not ignore the threat that sliding out of the European Union would pose to Britain’s national security.


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