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Defence Co-operation

Volume 637: debated on Monday 5 March 2018

6. What recent discussions he has had with his European and US counterparts on maintaining defence co-operation between the EU and NATO. (904156)

I was trying to offload various questions on to my ministerial colleagues, Mr Speaker. Sadly, they were not willing to take them. [Interruption.] God loves a trier.

I have regular conversations with my European and US counterparts on maintaining defence co-operation between the European Union and NATO. EU-NATO co-operation is key to combating the breadth of challenges we face, and the institutions must work together in a way that is complementary and prevents duplication. The UK will continue to support better working between the EU and NATO while we remain in the EU and after we leave.

I thank the Secretary of State for taking my question. Following the recent signing of the permanent structured co-operation pact between 25 EU nations, what role does he envisage for the UK after Brexit in ensuring that the EU’s future defence co-operation plans enhance NATO rather than detract from it?

There have always been traditional tensions within the European Union as to which way it would like to take its role in defence. We want to work with our European Union partners. We must not forget, however, that 80% of NATO’s defence is provided by countries outside the European Union. We should not see leaving the European Union as a step towards making the continent of Europe less safe. Indeed, it is fair to say that in the decades before the European Union was invented, NATO was already keeping the continent safe, incredibly successfully. We want to have the opportunity to work closely with our European Union partners, but equally we want to make sure that that does not detract from the amazing work that NATO does.

The European Defence Agency does not envisage third-party countries joining, so is that one of the agencies that the Government will be seeking an administrative arrangement with?

We are very happy to discuss how best we can work with our European partners, but we do not want to do anything that diminishes what we agreed to on 23 June 2016, which is exiting the European Union. If we can work in a pragmatic way with European partners, that is good, but let us not forget that most of what we do in, say, equipment programmes is done through bilateral relationships, not through the European Union.