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European Union: United Kingdom Membership

Volume 773: debated on Monday 23 May 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the reasons for the call by five previous Secretaries-General of NATO for the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union.

My Lords, national security is the first duty of any Government, and Europe helps us to make Britain safer. Leaving Europe is a threat to our economic and national security. NATO is the cornerstone of our security, but the EU is part of the West’s core security. Our NATO allies do not want us to leave the EU. Beyond NATO, there is no indication that any of our key partners want us to leave.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it not arrogant of the Brexiteers to substitute their view for that of our NATO friends, whose view is that the EU is a key partner for NATO, that Brexit would undermine NATO and give succour to the West’s enemies and that, at a time of such global instability, it would be very troubling if Britain ended its membership of the EU? Is it not the truth that any supporter of NATO must be a supporter of remain?

My Lords, of course, all noble Lords are able to take their own view on these matters; I like to go for information about the real, the how and the now. It is the case that the EU complements NATO’s high-intensity military activities with important long-term stabilisation and development work. I saw that at first hand on two separate visits I made last summer: one to Kosovo, where NATO is in position; and the other to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I had the opportunity to meet the general in charge of the EUFOR Althea force and see the work which the EU can do which NATO does not and cannot.

My Lords, does my noble friend not accept that the real problem with any form of EU defence capability is that only three countries spend money on defence—Germany, France and the United Kingdom—and the Germans are pacifists?

My Lords, that is an interesting interpretation of NATO. It is certainly not one that I have seen coming out of the discussions in NATO, where there is support across the membership for ensuring that there is a strategic defence of western Europe. NATO has a proud and successful history.

As one of the signatories to the letter concerned, perhaps I may suggest that the reason why five former Secretaries-General of NATO have taken the unprecedented step of speaking out at this time is the genuine concern that Britain might leave the European Union. As the letter quite clearly says, that would weaken British influence and weaken NATO at the same time. Surely, the Minister will agree that, at a time when we face unprecedented threats and challenges in the world today, a weakened NATO would be very dangerous indeed.

My Lords, has the Minister seen the Brexit film, which stars a number of Members of this House? If not, I suggest that she might find it interesting to watch.

My Lords, if we believe Her Majesty’s Treasury’s estimates of the short-term and long-term consequences of a vote to leave the European Union, which would leave the United Kingdom financially much worse off, would that not have negative ramifications in terms of our defence expenditure? The 2% commitment to NATO is excellent, but if we have a smaller economy, that means less money, fewer defence capabilities and a weakened, less secure United Kingdom.

Will the Minister confirm that these distinguished Secretaries-General of NATO are joined in the roll call by virtually every international organisation that is relevant, and all of the international statesmen, including Commonwealth statesmen such as the Prime Minister of Australia? One would be hard-pressed indeed to find any international organisation or international leader, save perhaps for President Putin or Mr Trump, who would join the Brexiteers.

My Lords, people often forget that what has strengthened NATO has been the EU’s influence in ensuring that human rights, democracy and a growing economy are part of that NATO field. Of course, when NATO was established, Greece and Spain had dictatorships, and there have been dictatorships in other parts of Europe. Does the Minister agree that the EU complements and strengthens NATO rather than weakens it?

My Lords, indeed, the EU complements and strengthens NATO, rather than weakens it. The current holder of the position of NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, said only last month:

“We also see the importance of the United Kingdom being so supportive both inside NATO and inside the European Union, promoting increased cooperation between NATO and the European Union”.

He made the point that,

“a more fragmented Europe is bad for our security and it’s bad for NATO”.

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that the definition of a dictatorship is a country where people cannot sack the Government, make their own laws, or decide their own levels of taxation? Which is the democratic organisation in Brussels? Is it the one headed by Herr Juncker? We have had trouble with Junkers in this country before—I remember in my schooldays being bombed by them. Is it not true that this country is a democracy but the European Union is not, because we cannot sack people like Juncker?

My Lords, the European Union is united in the sense that it is 28 democratic countries. This Government are determined that the golden thread of good governance should run throughout not just the United Kingdom but the rest of the European Union.

My Lords, perhaps I may familiarise the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and others with the fact that the 28 democracies which make up the European Union are all represented in the Council of Ministers and that they have rights, including rights of veto, in many vital areas. There is a directly elected European Parliament, which is the only directly elected international Parliament in the world, and it has effective powers that assist in the improvement of legislation. There is no government in Brussels other than the Government of Belgium—there is a civil service that does its best to serve in response to the requests and requirements of all the member states of the European Union.

That is indeed an accurate description. I would simply add that it shows the importance of ensuring that those who are enfranchised within the United Kingdom vote for our MEPs. I always find it very disappointing to see the low turnout—so let us all work to increase it.

My Lords, will the Minister comment on statements from the Brexit campaign in the past week that Turkey is about to enter the European Union, that 80 million Turks will come over here, and it will be mainly criminals who come? In fact, it is very unlikely that Turkey will join the European Union in the next five years. Could she also say something about the damage that the campaign is doing in respect of Turkey, a valued member of NATO, and in respect of community relations?

My Lords, it is a matter of fact that the Prime Minister has made it clear that he does not envisage Turkey being able for some decades to qualify by opening and closing all the chapters that are required to achieve membership of the European Union. Turkey has been trying to do so for some decades. I am on record in this House as pointing out that, until Turkey satisfies the requirements on human rights that must be met across the Union, particularly freedom of expression, it does not have a hope of joining. We want Turkey to change its attitude towards human rights, but, in the meantime, it is also a fact that, while we remain a member of the European Union, we have a veto on any application for membership.