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Military and Security Co-operation: European Union

Volume 685: debated on Monday 7 December 2020

What plans he has for future military and security co-operation with EU (a) institutions and (b) member states. (909779)

Although we are leaving the EU defence structures, we remain committed to the security of Europe and will continue to co-operate with the EU and European nations on a bilateral or multinational basis on shared threats and challenges. We do not need an institutionalised relation with the EU to do so. The defence settlement reaffirms our position as Europe’s leading power, with the second highest defence budget in NATO, providing leadership and the ability for investment to help to drive forward NATO’s adaptation.

Any major conflict will require UK forces to be able to work collaboratively and fully with EU forces in the future. What steps has the Secretary of State taken to ensure that that is possible through access to the European Defence Standardisation Committee, which replaces the former Materiel Standardisation Group?

The leader in the field of standardisation has always been NATO, with the setting of NATO standards, which have let us interoperate with our allies the United States and all the other nations of Europe. It would be wrong to abandon that to adopt another approach. We all know in Europe, whatever part of the EU debate one is in, that the United States is the cornerstone of European security, and that is why NATO is so important.

My right hon. Friend knows, however, that NATO and Europe are not quite the same. As Brexit talks reach their conclusion, does he agree that to depart without a trade deal would be less than helpful in re-establishing western resolve to take on the growing, complex threats that we face? The Government’s integrated review emphasises a commitment to reinvigorating a proactive role for the United Kingdom on the international stage, giving real purpose to global Britain. Would it not be an abject failure of statecraft, and diminish our collective security co-operation, to leave the EU without a deal?

My right hon. Friend obviously urges us to make a deal. I think that right now, as we speak, members of the Government are trying to make a deal with the European Union to enforce the decision by the British people to leave the European Union. What would be a mistake is if both sides forgot that security is not a competition—it is a partnership. That is what I always said as Security Minister, and as Defence Secretary I mean it now. There has been no sign among many of our European allies that that situation has changed. We are still partners in going after whatever threatens all of us, our way of life and our values.

I am encouraged by the Secretary of State’s replies so far. Given that there is no security for Europe without the United States, what specific reassurance can he give that we shall not be sucked, via Permanent Structured Cooperation, into the European Union’s persistent attempts to create an alternative NATO without the United States, which would be a particularly dangerous military version of Hamlet without the Prince?

My right hon. Friend raises a worrying spectre. First, we are very grateful to the Germans, who have tried very hard to get a proper third-party agreement with PESCO, although we have no plans to participate in it because we have serious concerns about the intellectual property rights and export controls that it would seek to impose. However, we will always be open to working with European industries—on the future combat air system, for example. We have engaged with the Swedish and the Italians, for instance, because the collective security of Europe is often based on a good sovereign capability in our industrial base. We will continue to do that on a case-by-case basis, and to do that with our other allies such as the United States. Britain is also the keystone of European security.