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EU Membership: National Security

Volume 606: debated on Monday 29 February 2016

NATO is the cornerstone of the United Kingdom’s defence. The European Union plays an important complementary role in supporting NATO’s response to international crises, by applying economic, humanitarian and diplomatic levers that NATO does not have. The Government therefore believe that the United Kingdom’s continued membership of a reformed European Union will make us safer and stronger.

Cyber threats pose a significant risk to the defence of the UK, and that issue was identified as one of four security challenges in the 2015 defence review. The EU network information and security directive was created in 2014 to enhance data security throughout EU member states, and it is vital that cyber security continues to be a priority for the MOD. Does the Minister agree that remaining a member of the European Union greatly enhances our ability to respond to future cyber threats?

Our recent strategic defence and security review identified cyber as one of the key threats facing this country. My Department has now taken overall responsibility for cyber security, and we are spending more than £2 billion to ensure that we keep the institutions of government properly protected and do our best to spread good practice in our industry.

17. On a scale of one to 10, and in terms of preserving our national security, how would the Secretary of State rate and compare our membership of NATO with our membership of the EU? (903772)

As I have said, NATO is the cornerstone of our defence and the EU plays a complementary role. I have not yet come across any NATO Defence Minister who thinks that we should leave the European Union or that we would be safer and stronger outside it. Taken together, membership of those two organisations—the alliance and the union—keeps us stronger and safer in an uncertain world.

Does the Secretary of State think that President Putin would shed a tear if the UK left the European Union? Is it not clear that we are better off being part of that collaboration and sitting round the table with France, Germany and Italy, and thinking about all those security issues? Are we not better off and safer remaining part of the European Union?

The European Union was able to impose sanctions on President Putin for what he did in annexing Crimea and his aggression in eastern Ukraine. I think that President Putin would certainly welcome any fracturing of either NATO or the European Union.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that by advancing the rather quaint idea that somehow our membership of the EU enhances our national security, he is merely playing into the hands of people such as Mr Juncker and Chancellor Merkel who, if Britain votes to remain in the EU, would advance towards a European army and permanent structured co-operation, the result of which would be to undermine NATO—the very organisation that the Secretary of State says is the cornerstone of our national defence?

We have made it absolutely clear that we would not support any move towards a European Union army of the kind that my hon. Friend suggests. These two organisations have different memberships and slightly different objectives. As I have said, NATO is the key part and cornerstone of our defence, but legal, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian levers are available to the European Union that NATO does not have. Being a member of both gives us the best of both worlds.

When the Secretary of State talks to fellow European Defence Ministers, he must acknowledge that some would prefer a European defence force ultimately to replace NATO. What is his view on that, and will he acknowledge that most of our European security successes are bilateral and not as part of the EU?

I have not heard a fellow European Defence Minister call on us to help to create any kind of European defence force. At the last NATO meeting I attended in Brussels last month, it was interesting that Germany specifically asked for NATO to help police the Aegean sea and deal with the migrant pressure. There is a role for NATO in some of these operations, and a role in other areas for the European Union. We are fortunate in being members of both.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is essential that all members of our armed forces serving away from home are able to vote in the June referendum?

Yes. The arrangements for voting in the referendum, as I understand it, are exactly the same as in a general election. Following my hon. Friend’s reminder, we will of course make every effort to ensure as high a turnout by the armed forces as possible.