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Leaving the EU: Defence Co-operation

Volume 652: debated on Monday 14 January 2019

5. What plans his Department has for maintaining defence co-operation with European partners in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (908525)

The UK is a global player. We will remain engaged in the world and central to European foreign and security policy as we leave the EU. Much of our engagement is managed bilaterally or in other organisations.

No deal would have a disastrous impact on defence co-operation, and the UK’s defence sector relies on pan-European supply chains. Will the Government finally provide some certainty to workers in the wider defence sector by accepting that a permanent customs union with the EU is essential?

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, 90% of our industrial collaboration with other European countries on defence is actually on a bilateral basis, not through the European Union. I imagine that that pattern will go long into the future. When we look at the defence of Europe, is it based on the European Union or on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation? I would argue it is based on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, not the European Union.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity, in the light of tomorrow’s important votes, to explain his view of the claims made by some observers outside this place that the defence and security clauses of the withdrawal agreement would somehow cede control over defence operations and military procurement from Her Majesty’s Government to EU institutions?

I absolutely reassure the House that that is not going to happen. Our sovereign capability and sovereign control over our military and intelligence is something that will always be protected.

In order to appease the hard right of the Conservative party, the Prime Minister has spent the last two years presenting no deal as a viable option, but no deal would mean that we would have to withdraw from all common security and defence policy missions, with our seconded personnel sent home forthwith. We would be permanently shut out of the European Defence Agency and the defence fund, undermining vital research and industrial co-operation, and our defence industry would be hit by crippling tariffs and delays at the border, putting in jeopardy the equipment that our armed forces need. Given all that, does the Secretary of State agree that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for defence and security?

I do not agree at all. Our country can and will succeed, whatever it has to deal with and whatever it faces. Much of our defence collaboration is done through third-party organisations, whether they be NATO, the United Nations or joint expeditionary forces. As I have already touched upon, most of our defence industrial collaboration is done not through the European Union, but on a bilateral basis.

Why can the Secretary of State not just say, absolutely unequivocally, that no deal is not just undesirable but completely unthinkable? Does he agree with the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who has warned that no deal would be an “irresponsible act of self-harm”? It would be dangerous for Britain. Instead of using a no deal to blackmail MPs into supporting the Prime Minister’s unworkable deal, why will the Government not do the responsible thing and rule out no deal once and for all?

Obviously, the hon. Lady will have the opportunity to take part in the debate this afternoon and tomorrow. The Prime Minister has negotiated a deal with the EU that she is putting to this House, and perhaps the hon. Lady will support it. But it is also clear that this country always has and always will succeed, whether we are in the EU or outside it; whether we have a deal or no deal, Britain will succeed and Britain will prosper.

Following the Prime Minister’s commitment to participate in aspects of the EU’s defence framework, can the Defence Secretary advise as to the carve-outs the UK has negotiated, or intends to negotiate, from strict third country participation criteria in any common security and defence policy initiative?

We have been clear that we will participate in the projects that are of interest and value to the UK, and we will not be dragged along into projects that are of no value and interest to this country.