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Defence and National Security (EU)

Volume 604: debated on Monday 18 January 2016

2. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of UK withdrawal from the EU on defence and national security. (903050)

This Government believe we can and will succeed in reforming and renegotiating our relationship with the European Union. The cornerstone of our security, however, is NATO, while the EU plays a significant role in complementing NATO—for example, in imposing sanctions on Russia. Defence remains a sovereign issue.

The Prime Minister recently told us that he was

“in no doubt that for Britain the European question is not just a matter of economic security, but of national security too”.

Was he right or wrong?

The Prime Minister was quite right that our relationship with our European partners plays a very important role in defence.

Will my hon. Friend remind the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) how many times, in the 10 years since its inception, that the EU battle groups have actually been deployed?

The EU battle groups have not yet been deployed. The EU does have five significant common security and defence policy missions at the moment, complementing areas where NATO has chosen not to become involved.

Will the Minister comment on the impact of UK withdrawal from the EU on the Anglo-French military relationship? He will be aware that many joint programmes are under way. Are they likely to be affected if the EU pulled out of the EU?

The Minister will have seen in the press at the weekend that yet another veteran is struggling to access the care that she deserves. On top of the King’s College report last week, does he agree that now is the time for the Government, after having put so much in, to undertake a radical reform and address the care required in the veterans sector?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern in this area. He may wish to put a question on that to the excellent Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), who has responsibility for veterans, shortly.

Well, he cannot do so now. The operative word is “shortly”, but how shortly remains to be seen. That is not in the mind of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), nor at the moment in mine.

Will the Minister advise the House what impact a Brit exit, if there is one this year or next, would have on our armed services personnel currently in operations with the European Union overseas?

The Minister is quite right to remind the House that the cornerstone of our national security is our membership of NATO. Does he agree that if the British people vote to leave the European Union, as I hope they do, there is absolutely nothing to stop this country working with our European neighbours and co-operating on defence matters, should they choose to do so?

My hon. Friend is quite right. We all agree—in fact, both sides of the House used to agree—that the cornerstone of our defence is a nuclear-armed NATO. He is of course right in saying that, in any scenario, we will continue to co-operate with the other members of the EU, the majority of whom belong to NATO anyway.

I am glad to hear the Minister give his support to what the Prime Minister said about European co-operation. On that note, will he describe a single way in which less co-operation with our EU partners is going to increase our national security?

Nobody is suggesting less co-operation on defence matters with our European partners or anyone else.

It is all very well for the Minister to say that, but the Typhoon Eurofighter project is just one example of how working together with our European partners creates thousands of jobs, boosts exports and secures crucial sovereign capability. Will the Minister, who is supposed to be a member of a Government that are looking to boost the UK defence industry, give us an example of a single UK defence industry manufacturer that boosts the UK leaving the European Union at the moment?

The Typhoon, which the hon. Gentleman gives as an example of collaboration, was a collaboration between NATO countries. I am not sure that I fully followed the remainder of his question. It was something about defence manufacturers. Let us be clear: NATO, and not the EU, is the central plank of our defence policy.