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Leaving the EU: Defence Relationship

Volume 654: debated on Monday 18 February 2019

2. What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s future defence relationship with the EU after the UK leaves the EU. (909265)

May I take this opportunity to associate us with your comments about Paul Flynn, Mr Speaker? I remember having the privilege of serving with Paul on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. As you quite rightly stated, he was always incredibly passionate about his constituents and about his beliefs. As a former Chief Whip, I also agree that Labour Members not following their Whip is good advice, but the same is not necessarily true on the Conservative side.

The UK will pursue a distinctive, independent and sovereign foreign and defence policy that meets British interests and promotes our values.

Mr Speaker, on my behalf and, I am sure, that of other hon. Members on the Opposition side, I would like to echo your words about Paul Flynn, whom I will always remember for his great independence of spirit and fantastic sense of humour.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer. On 7 January his junior Minister said, in response to a written parliamentary question, that in the event of no deal,

“the UK would have to withdraw from Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations”.

What would happen to Operation Atalanta, which is against pirates, and Operation Sophia, which picks up refugees in the Mediterranean?

Those missions will continue, and we will continue to have negotiations with the EU on how we can support those operations in the future.

I would like to echo your kind tribute to Paul Flynn, Mr Speaker. My thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family.

Is it not the case that the vast majority of our industrial collaboration with other European countries is done on a bilateral basis, which will very much continue once we leave the EU?

My hon. Friend raises an important point: 90% of all our collaboration with EU nations and EU defence programmes is done outside the framework of the European Union. I joined him in his constituency to visit Airbus and Boeing, and it was quite obvious how important those bilateral and multilateral relationships are to their growth. It is not through the European Union.

What contingency measures will the Government put in place to protect the UK defence industry from losing the automatic right to bid for contracts within the European economic area in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

As I touched on in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), most of our defence procurement and most opportunities in the defence industry are not through the European Union. We will continue to work with the European Union to have access to programmes. That is not only important for UK business; if the European Union wants to succeed in developing a defence sector, it needs countries such as Britain and the United States to be able to participate in these schemes.

Mr Speaker, I associate myself with your eloquent words about Paul Flynn, whom we will all miss very much and whose book I read before becoming a Back Bencher, which I may remain.

Will the Secretary of State expand on how, in our future defence relationship with the EU in the north Atlantic, we will invest in and show continued commitment to protecting that northern flank of Europe?

The high north is an important part of the development of our strategy. At the weekend, I had the opportunity to see our Royal Marines in Norway and what they are doing to support the Norwegian armed forces. We will be deploying our P-8s in 2020, along with Norway and the United States, to deal with the increased threat that we face from Russian submarines in the north Atlantic.

I add the condolences of those on the Scottish National party Benches to the family of Paul Flynn and to the parliamentary Labour party on the loss of a thoroughly decent human being.

The Secretary of State and his predecessors have been clear that NATO is the cornerstone of the UK’s security, but many leading experts, including Professor Beatrice Heuser of the University of Glasgow, see something of a devil in the detail. Much of the recent debate on Churchill missed out the fact that he was one of the architects of the Western European Union—a security-focused grouping that saw all its functions wound up into the European Union post Lisbon. Can the Secretary of State tell us what analysis his Department has undertaken on the difference between the UK’s obligations under article 5 of the NATO treaty and article 42(7) of the Lisbon treaty?

Article 5 is a mechanism that delivers security right across continental Europe and the north Atlantic area. That has been proven. Article 5 has only been used in one situation, which was following 9/11, and we feel that it is a much more substantial guarantee of European security than what is in the Lisbon treaty.

I am grateful for that response. I am glad that the Secretary of State visited NATO and the Royal Marines during their winter warfare training, and I know that the Norwegians and many members of the Defence Committee will be too. Article 5 obligates members to respond to an attack with

“such action as it deems necessary”,

which, as put to me, could mean a conventional military response, just as it could mean a strongly worded letter. Article 42(7) of the Lisbon treaty, on the other hand, obligates states to react with

“all the means in their power”.

Does the Secretary of State understand that many of our European allies are unnerved by this dilution of the UK’s obligation towards the defence of the continent? What preparations are being undertaken by the Ministry of Defence to ensure that our adversaries do not exploit that loophole?

We have never as a nation shied away from our obligations, and there has been a clear understanding that Britain will stand with our European friends and neighbours in delivering security. Our commitment to security on the continent of Europe was there long before the creation of the European Union or our membership of it, and long before the creation of NATO. We have always been there, and we always will be.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify for the House that it is in fact NATO, not the European Union, that has been and will continue to be the cornerstone of European security and defence?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. When we speak to the new nations that have been created out of the collapse of the Soviet Union, to which organisation do they turn to guarantee their security? It is NATO.