Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the potential effect on peace and stability in Europe and around the world of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.
My Lords, I am pleased to open this debate. I expect I shall have an opportunity to wind it up on Thursday morning, as we are having another Europe debate on that day. There may be issues which I shall return to then.
We have been given our instructions by the British people to leave the European Union and we must act on them. The Government must also prepare for the risks that will come from Brexit. Historically, the United Kingdom has been one of the key players in driving the direction of the EU’s common foreign and security policy and its common security and defence policy. That has been due largely to our position as one of the largest and most advanced military powers within the EU and to our ability to take command of a mission. It has given us substantial bargaining power to control and influence the direction of EU thinking in the areas of foreign and defence policy.
If we are to have the international security and stability that we seek, development, defence and diplomacy have to go together. While foreign and security policy remain the competence of individual member states, the shared exercise of soft power through the Copenhagen criteria is the biggest benefit the UK derives from EU membership in the sphere of foreign and security policy. This enables us to exert influence in the areas of the world where, independently, we may not hold much sway. Collective action through the EU gives member states more bargaining power over countries with which we want to do deals and more muscle over countries we want to deter from aggression. The ability of the EU to respond to threats as they emerge through its common foreign and security policy has been vital—for example, with the sanctions against Russia following the illegal annexation of Crimea, and in securing the nuclear deal with Iran.
How does the Minister think the Government will be able to maintain the United Kingdom’s influence in the development of the EU’s common foreign and security policy after Britain leaves the EU? If she believes that the UK will have no influence on this post-Brexit, what assessment have the Government made of the impact this will have on the UK’s broader influence throughout the world and the Government’s ability to pursue their foreign policy objectives?
In the field of defence, a common security and defence policy gives the UK flexibility to work with EU partners on issues of common interest, such as the highly successful Operation Atalanta mission to tackle piracy in Somalia. That involved not just co-ordinated military action but activities such as helping coastal countries enhance their judicial and prison capacity to deal with those cases—something that NATO could never have replicated. Do the Government intend to maintain the United Kingdom’s participation in joint operations and initiatives taking place under the umbrella of the common security and defence policy after Britain leaves the EU?
Britain is also currently a member of the European Defence Agency, which helps facilitate collaboration in the defence industry and carry out research to promote the EU’s defence capabilities. Does the Minister know whether the UK is obliged to leave the EDA after it leaves the EU? If it is, what plans do the Government have to negotiate an agreement with the EDA, enabling the UK to continue participating in its research and technology projects?
The EU’s international development assistance helps us to magnify the UK’s presence around the world, allowing us to exert influence on countries which—on current rules—would not qualify for allocations from the UK’s domestic overseas aid budget. How does the Minister envisage such vital global co-operation continuing after Brexit? Will DfID have to extend its bilateral aid programmes? While I am on this subject, when will the House learn of the result of the reviews of both the multilateral and bilateral programmes conducted by DfID?
For decades, Britain has been a key link, ensuring that NATO and the EU’s Council of Ministers and External Action Service act in concert with one another, delivering EU influence, aid, diplomacy and sanctions in pursuit of common objectives. Outside the EU, Britain will no longer play this role. Some have argued that the UK will be able to exert exactly the same international influence post-Brexit, given its permanent place on the UN Security Council and its role within NATO. What this does not address is the effect it will have on British influence and leadership and the knock-on effects on NATO’s political cohesion and operational effectiveness.
Of equal concern is that if the EU starts to develop its own distinct foreign and security policies without Britain’s influence, it could put its objectives at odds with those of NATO, the UK and the USA. This could destabilise NATO and impede its ability to perform its defence role, the policy towards Russia being a particular concern. What assessment have the Government made of the risk that, without the UK’s restraining influence, measures that we have long opposed at EU level—such as the establishment of an EU army—are more likely to come to fruition? How do the Government intend to deal with such risks in future?
Most of the foreign policy risks faced by the UK will continue to require international action—for example, international terrorism, Russian aggression, climate change and the threats to economies that implies, and cross-border cybercrime. Britain is going to need the EU if we want to tackle any of these threats effectively, but we may increasingly find ourselves at odds with the EU over the policy and the mechanism for tackling such threats. It is also clear that the FCO will need to devote significant diplomatic resources during the coming years to the task of exiting the EU. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government are taking to ensure that other vital Foreign Office work, such as in Africa and the Middle East, will not be put at risk?
Before I conclude I want to raise the issue of Gibraltar, which is important in maintaining stable relationships with our neighbours in the EU. Despite 96% of its population voting to remain in the EU, Gibraltar will now leave, along with the rest of the United Kingdom. What steps will the Government take to ensure that we are best able to protect the interests of the people of Gibraltar? What assessment have they made of the risk of increased border controls and the impact they will have on the economic sustainability of Gibraltar?
I am sure there will be many more opportunities to seek explanations from the Government as to how they will ensure their negotiating plan for Brexit will protect our foreign policy and security relationships with the EU and enhance them with the rest of the world. We will certainly have that opportunity on Thursday. There are no easy answers to the questions I have posed, but that is why those who have advocated Brexit need to be confronted with them and made to prioritise them as negotiations proceed.
My Lords, I welcome this timely and important debate. Much of the Brexit discussion has focused on the economy and immigration, not on the implications for our foreign policy or for stability in Europe. At times, it felt as if the referendum debate was taking place in a parallel universe in which the world was at peace, Russia was a prosperous, benign power and Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa were stable. Instead, as we know, this is a time of immense uncertainty in world affairs and of great strain in the international system.
In this context, as it stands today, I believe that our withdrawal from the EU is a blow to our international influence and to the stability of our continent. The United Kingdom is a medium-sized economic and military power. Membership of the EU has been part of our ability to punch above our weight in international affairs, and has enhanced our distinctive role, not detracted from it.
Collective EU foreign and security policy, for all its complications, has been crucial in helping to achieve our objectives in relation to the Iranian nuclear programme, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Somali piracy, the potential destabilisation of the Balkans, the Cyprus question and the Middle East peace process. Leveraging a collective EU response has been a vital asset in British foreign policy, which I believe we will miss when we no longer have it.
Indeed, relinquishing our membership of the EU could result in a sharp drop in Britain’s power, unless we have a clear plan for how we will conduct our foreign policy in this new reality. The risk if we do not is that we will find our national energies consumed in negotiating our separation from the EU, our freedom of action in other areas reduced, our diplomatic influence damaged in Europe and beyond and our adversaries emboldened.
Of course, we should not be despondent. We retain great advantages in foreign policy, including our permanent seat on the UN Security Council, our membership of NATO and the Commonwealth, and the strength of our Armed Forces and intelligence agencies, which are second to none.
The Government have rightly committed themselves to making the best out of Brexit, and the Foreign Secretary has said that leaving the EU does not in any way mean leaving Europe. I hope that, on top of this, it will be the Government’s policy to continue as a fully engaged and dependable diplomatic partner that does not miss a beat in efforts to ensure the strongest possible European contribution to international peace and security and stands firm with our allies in NATO and beyond, even as we disentangle ourselves from EU institutions.
With that in mind, I shall put three points to the Minister. First, the national security strategies published in 2010 and 2015 envisaged membership of the EU as a fundamental pillar of how we project UK power and influence and protect our security. Does the Minister agree that there is an urgent need for an update of our national security strategy to provide clarity, certainty and direction in these changed circumstances?
Secondly, stability in the European continent has been corroded by what my noble friend Lord Hague, when he was Foreign Secretary, labelled “the creeping oligarchisation” of the economies and democratic institutions of the newest EU member states. Russia also continues a skilful, malign operation to encourage separatism and undermine stability in the Balkans. Does the Minister agree that it is our duty towards our own security to find a way of addressing this problem with our EU allies?
Thirdly, Britain has always been the strongest proponent of enlargement as a means of entrenching long-term stability in Europe. The western Balkans remains a vital piece of unfinished business, and steady progress towards EU and NATO membership has never been more important as a stabilising factor. I therefore hope it will remain the Government’s policy to continue to support EU enlargement, and that we will find a role, even when outside the EU, to encourage, support and mentor the aspiring nations.
The British people have spoken, and we should rally and work for what is in the best interest of our country, making the most of our many opportunities and advantages outside the EU. As we do, I hope that we will not forget the lesson of history, that a stable and prosperous Europe is vital to the national interest of our country, and that we will continue to work for that, whatever else the future may hold.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her courageous and challenging speech, and thank my noble friend for his opening remarks and for the clarity with which he presented the issues which now face us.
I start from the premise that, from the moment we are born, we are inescapably locked into a highly interdependent global community. I firmly believe that history will judge us by the contribution we make to the successful governance of the global community. Therefore, this change in our status in Europe can be seen only as a backwards step because, together with our friends in Europe, we were beginning to explore and discover ways in which we could work together on the truly global issues that confront us.
My noble friend talked about our responsibilities to Gibraltar, which are real, and about the border problems. If we are talking about stability in Europe, the challenge comes much nearer home. What will be the consequence for peace and stability in Ireland? There is very little doubt that the Good Friday agreement related very closely to our membership of the European Union. How are we going to meet the new situation? We need to hear that very specifically and clearly, and the Irish people and the people of Northern Ireland need to hear that.
What of the acute instability, which not many years ago not many of us envisaged as likely, that has developed in eastern Europe with the new aggressive foreign policy of what was the Soviet Union and is now Russia? How are we going to handle that? Do we really think we can handle it effectively on our own? Surely we shall have to work together very closely with our European colleagues. How are we going to do that?
We have to remember that it is not just a matter of how we see we are going to do it but also of how they think we are going to do it. Therefore, perhaps the greatest blow to meeting the global challenges of insecurity that I have mentioned is the psychological impact on the European Community and the wider world of our having so aggressively, almost, expressed our lack of confidence in a future based on co-operation with Europe. That is going to undermine the possibilities of finding pragmatic solutions to the issues.
Of course, in the time available, I can mention only a couple of those. When I was serving on the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, we looked at the possible implications of withdrawal from Europe, and what struck me was that so many of those carrying front-line responsibility in the sphere of security in this age of global terrorism said that it could be nothing but harmful no longer to be part of the European Community because that co-operation was so necessary. If we are going to be in a jingoistic mood, and say that the strength of our security services is so much better than anybody else’s, that is not always totally demonstrable, but that is not the point. The point is that, if there are weaker elements in Europe, we need to be working to strengthen them because in the end security is only as strong as its weakest links.
In the sphere of overseas development, in which I have a certain amount of direct experience, not least ministerial, it is crucial that we do not have a fragmented approach to the third world. It does not help development if people are operating to different agendas. The important thing is to get as much co-ordination as possible so that we are working towards common objectives.
To conclude, we have a huge job in this country to continue and strengthen our drive to enable people in this country to face the reality of inescapable global interdependence. We shall therefore have to have some practical, convincing arrangements in place that will enable us to do that.
My Lords, peace and stability is one of those issues that was hardly raised in the referendum campaign. It was an issue that the previous Prime Minister was determined to keep out of the campaign, in spite of efforts by many of us to bring it into the argument, and despite evidence that voters, when asked, responded positively to the reminder.
Since 23 June, the Prime Minister and other Ministers have said that, in leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe and that we shall continue to play our full part in European foreign policy and external and internal security co-operation. The question that this debate and the one that we shall have on Thursday—and no doubt others as well—pose to the Government is: when will they tell us how on earth they intend to manage to play our full part when we leave the established structures of co-operation?
In the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s Government, Conservative Ministers were enthusiasts for foreign policy co-operation. I remember the London report that the then Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, commissioned from 1980 to 1981 to investigate how to strengthen foreign policy co-operation. Those of us who have read Mrs Thatcher’s Bruges speech carefully will remember that that also touched on the need for wider European security, speaking of Prague, Warsaw and Budapest as also being “great European cities” that we had to care about.
When the Cold War ended, the UK was in the lead on enlargement and in assisting the transformation of east European countries towards democracy and stability and in providing training for their police and border forces and armed forces, as we learnt that the disappearance of the Iron Curtain meant that co-operation on internal security and borders had become essential. The UK led in establishing Europol, and Europol has a number of very good British staff and a British secretary-general.
In his first years as Prime Minister, Tony Blair supported closer Franco-British defence co-operation through the 1988 agreement to strengthen and lead closer European defence co-operation and to encourage others—the Germans, the Dutch, the Italians and others—to follow. However, the Daily Mail campaign against what it dubbed “the European Army” led him to back off, because he always hated standing up to the Daily Mail. Since then, what we have had is a widening gap between the realities of developing co-operation on peace and security and the unwillingness of Ministers, both Labour and Conservative, to admit to the right-wing press or to the House of Commons how far we have been usefully engaged, in our own national interest, in shared European interests.
In 2010, the French took the initiative to strengthen bilateral defence co-operation further. Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for Defence, followed the policy but did his best to suppress public awareness of joint operations and manoeuvres as far as possible. I am told that his first briefing by the official who managed Franco-British co-operation led to the Secretary of State saying, “Ah yes, but I shall want to talk about this as little as possible”.
I am told that the memorandum to David Cameron on the commemoration of World War I that sparked off a committee on which I still sit included the phrase, “and we must ensure that commemoration does not lend support to the myth that European integration arose out of the conflicts of World Wars I and II”. That is not a myth; it is very much part of why, after the war, we ended up trying to develop European co-operation.
The referendum campaign was thus fought on the basis that this was an argument about economics and sovereignty, unconnected with peace or security. One has to say that Liam Fox and others were European security co-operation deniers in that campaign. Yet the experience of two world wars had been that Britain cannot stand aside when the continent faces disorder. Earlier today, I was listening to a senior NATO official who spelt out clearly that, in an era of hybrid warfare, cyberattacks, surges of refugees and migrants and economic and financial sanctions as means of political pressure short of war, the EU is now as central to western security as NATO, and the EU is the essential partner of NATO in meeting these threats and challenges.
Without having an answer to how we manage continuing co-operation in foreign policy, defence policy and internal security, we shall have no credible foreign policy. Perhaps it is appropriate that we still have no credible Foreign Secretary to push such a policy.
My Lords, recognising that this debate and that to come on Thursday belong together, although I cannot be here on Thursday, I offer this statement by the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann in a book that I finished reading on the train today:
“A free society is not an accumulation of independent individuals; it is a community of persons in solidarity”.
I quote this because the same might equally be applied to nations. It bears repetition that the language and discourse of the referendum—shamelessly, in my view, fuelled by misrepresentations and misleading promises, now apparently acceptable in a so-called “post-factual” world—paid little or no attention to the needs or securities of our international neighbours. They focused purely on the national interests of Britain, as if we can live in isolation or that we can be secure without ensuring the security of our neighbours. I invoke the poet John Donne: in a globalised world, Britain cannot simply see itself as an island.
Although the referendum campaign was dominated by immigration and the domestic economy, with wild promises that should always have used the language of “might” rather than “will”, questions about foreign relations and the security implications of a decision to remain in or leave the EU were too often dismissed as if an impertinent intervention by an embarrassing relation.
So the decision to leave the EU now raises questions that should have been identified and fleshed out before the referendum—questions that assume our place as a nation interdependent on a community of nations. If Europe has been focused for a generation or more on integration, it is surely now coloured by a hint of disintegration.
To return to those questions, an example is: Brexit will be hugely demanding of energy and resources, so what will the impact of this be on other areas of government? We hear bold promises that Britain will not retreat in on itself; but if revenues are reduced, costs increase, the pound continues to fall and the focus of resource is on Brexit, what will happen to work with the UN Security Council, NATO, the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth? Furthermore, is it not inconceivable that this diversion of energy, focus and resource might just create the space for mischief-making by those who might be described as “not our best friends”?
Peace and stability cannot be achieved by an approach that is rooted in us simply looking to our own best interests. As we see around the world, particularly in the Middle East, security, peace and stability must be mutual. To seek the security of neighbours, which is essential, is costly.
I have further questions. The last strategic defence and security review was published in November 2015, yet the brave new post-Brexit world will look different from the one assumed a year ago. It is likely, for instance, that increased and enhanced EU defence co-operation—potentially intensified outside NATO—will impact both on the UK and NATO. In turn, if we invest more in NATO, this will have an impact on our relationship with and towards Russia, and this will impact on our response to threats to Poland and the Baltic states. To put it differently, how might greater EU defence co-operation impact on the Government’s stated SDSR ambition to,
“intensify our security and defence relationship with Germany”,
“further strengthen the UK-France defence and security relationship”?
It would beggar belief that such questions have not been thought through in detail before now. To put it less charitably, where were the experts when we needed them?
To change tack a little, we recognise that the UK is one of the biggest contributors to the European Development Fund, currently contributing £409 million, which amounts to 14.8% of total contributions to the fund. Have the Government yet assessed the impact of Brexit on the EDF? Will Brexit lead to a narrower disbursement of UK aid to a narrower geographical reach than currently channelled through the EDF? Can the Government give an assurance that the UK’s overseas development aid will continue to be spent on genuine ODA purposes and not be used as sweeteners for trade deals, given that trade deals are currently being represented as the highest social good—a questionable anthropological priority at best?
Peace and security are not merely notional aspirations, but demand a broader and deeper vision of what a human society actually is, and for whom it is to be ordered. Peace and stability cannot be empty or merely utilitarian words to be thrown around carelessly in a post-factual world. They demand the prioritising of mutual international relationships and detailed costings—not merely financial or economic, but human, social and structural.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, on initiating this timely debate. I do not have the expertise to give a speech on political philosophy, but it is my strong conviction that there is no stable and peaceful world order without a just world order, and that undemocratic systems of government are incompatible with justice. Dr Laura Valentini, of the London School of Economics, who does have that expertise, affords my argument intellectual robustness when she says:
“Contemporary liberals agree that only democratic arrangements can be just”.
To hers, I add the voice of Professor Zillur Khan, of the University of Wisconsin, who makes the following observation:
“Perhaps the most important values sustaining democratic governance and institutions are universal rule of law and right of dissent manifested through tolerance, integrity, effectiveness and responsiveness in electing and selecting decision makers”.
I sincerely hope we never grow tired of experts in this House.
In my contribution to this debate, I want to focus on these underpinnings of democracy and justice and explain how they will be bolstered in this country by our leaving the European Union. Our country will be more peaceful and stable as a result of us decoupling from the institutions of the EU. The restructuring of those institutions which will surely follow, as a result of the shock that Brexit has administered to them, will be beneficial across a wider canvas. Either they will become more accountable, more transparent and more responsive, or the legitimacy they need in order to survive will wither and they will be brought down.
I supported Britain’s exit from the European Union, but not because I was cavalier about or ignorant of the economic shocks that would likely follow, albeit that I considered them grossly overstated. As a metals trader for the last 50 years I know a little about the undesirable effects of economic volatility. However, sometimes it is necessary to suffer pain and some disquiet for longer-term good. I am convinced that that is what will follow from us disentangling ourselves from the undemocratic governance system that is the European Union.
In March this year, the Economist stated:
“Before the 1972 European Communities Act, the then Tory prime minister, Edward Heath, insisted that ‘there is no question of any erosion of essential national sovereignty’”.
Then, a decade or so later, he brazenly admitted that this was a project that was always about greater political as well as economic union. Subsequently, we have become increasingly sucked into a process we never democratically signed up to: to my knowledge, no winning party’s manifesto has ever promised to work towards greater federalisation of Europe. The British people have been labouring under a deceit since the point at which our entry was negotiated.
My own private poll conducted during the referendum campaign asked those I came across the following questions. What does the European Commission do? What powers to initiate laws does the European Parliament have? What powers does it have to repeal bad laws on the statute book? What is the European Council? What is the Council of Ministers? What is the name of the UK’s Commissioner and what is his portfolio? What is the name of your MEP? The answer to all my questions, from all the people I asked, was: “I don’t know”.
Elections to the European Parliament every five years may have dulled people’s awareness that the European Union is a profoundly undemocratic entity. Very many voters are unaware that the Parliament cannot actually initiate legislation, yet it is, out of the seven principal decision-making bodies of the European Union, the only one that is directly elected. Enormous power lies with the Commission, the members of which cannot be removed by the people who fund it—the taxpayers of Europe.
Where there is no accountability there is no possibility of reform. The referendum lifted the veil on this lack of accountability and erosion of sovereignty. Lord Ashcroft’s exit poll found that almost half—49%—of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the EU was,
“the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.
Yes, immigration was the other major practical question at stake, but significantly fewer—one-third—said the main reason was that leaving,
“offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders”.
It must also not be forgotten that being able to determine levels of immigration so they are best suited to national need is itself a by-product of sovereignty.
As one female voter interviewed by the BBC just after the polls closed eloquently stated, “I like to look in the eyes of those who make my laws”—especially, we could add, if those laws mean public services are at a breaking point and there are no school places for children born in this country. By freeing themselves from the tyranny of remote control, voters have freed themselves from a centripetal force that was threatening to destabilise our own country and that is causing disquiet among other member states. Once again, Britain has led Europe and the world in saying, “We do not need to collude with the deceit that undemocratic institutions and governance are the natural order of things”.
To reiterate, there may well be a period of painful economic adjustment in the short term. The electorate were aware of this; it was not imposed on them. Six out of 10 voters polled the month before the referendum said,
“we must have more control … even if that means missing out on some of the benefits of co-operating with other countries”.
But in the longer term, the democratic rewards flowing from the increased accountability and transparency of government will be for the common good of the peoples not only of the United Kingdom but also of the whole of Europe.
My Lords, any debate on this subject must start with an awareness of a newly emboldened Russia, as evidenced by its actions in Ukraine and Syria, and on the back of enhanced defence spending and the modernisation of its forces. Under Putin, Russia challenges the West, constantly testing and probing. In the face of all this, it is crucial that we demonstrate our resolve to stand firm and deter, making it absolutely clear that we will honour our alliance responsibilities. However, for this to be taken seriously, NATO forces have to be continuously upgraded, numerically substantial, realistically deployed and operationally effective. Above all, there has to be the political will both to take defence seriously and, thus, to commit the appropriate expenditure.
Although NATO obviously continues as a military alliance, Brexit inevitably weakens the United Kingdom’s overall European influence and co-operation, as evidenced by my noble friend Lord Wallace’s example on cybersecurity. We are one of the few NATO countries spending approximately 2% of GDP on defence and are hoping that others will follow, and on this, clearly, Brexit is a big negative. However, it is not all bad news. We have politically and militarily argued against a European army, working alongside our partners, but not much further. As Defence Secretary Fallon said earlier this month, the United Kingdom would do all it could to resist a European army while in the European Union. Encouragingly though, other countries wish to move towards this. As Mrs von der Leyen, the German Defence Minister, said in July, closer military co-operation at the EU level had constantly been blocked by Britain and was one area where member states could show voters some positive developments from Brexit. Thus France and Germany have just signed an agreement for German air crew to be based in France for the first time since the Second World War and to share a new military transport fleet of C-130J Hercules. France and Germany also announced that the 5,000-strong Franco-German joint brigade established in 1987 would form part of an enhanced NATO presence under Germany’s lead in Latvia. All this was described by French Defence Minister Le Drian as a “slow but persistent path” towards a European defence.
We all know of the wasteful, duplicated and inefficient purchase of defence equipment by NATO countries. Until we have much greater integration on the lines of the new Franco-German example, sadly I believe little will change. Brexit can only make this ever more difficult and unlikely. On the world stage, Brexit can only disappoint our friends and please our enemies.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in instituting this debate and introducing it, spoke about the three elements: defence, international development and foreign policy. Many noble Lords painted rich landscapes of the whole issue of peace and stability. I will paint a miniature of how this looks in a certain area of defence that I believe was touched on by only one noble Lord.
I do not think that defence or peace and stability were issues that were raised during the referendum campaign or in its immediate aftermath. But within a very short period, think tanks were all trying to look at the impact of the referendum result from a defence perspective—and it did not make happy reading. Issues such as our economy, our role within NATO and the issue of an EU army quickly climbed the agenda.
Of course, we remain a steadfast member of NATO, and many of the key players in NATO are also members of the EU. We went to the Warsaw NATO conference just after the referendum, and people who were there said that the feel was different. No one really know what our view was and where we stood; there was total confusion. Other noble Lords have indicated that nobody had actually thought about this beforehand. So it was no surprise that in such a short period of time we were not able to put together an argument.
This confusion was exacerbated last week by the Foreign Secretary giving evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and stating that, rather than trying to block attempts to develop a common EU defence policy, the UK should instead be looking at ways to offer support. Part of me understands that and thinks that it is a good idea because that was where we were a few months ago—but we know that Secretary of State Michael Fallon, a long-standing opponent of an EU army, has said he would oppose such a proposal.
Would the Minister tell the House whether defence is on the Prime Minister’s list of issues to have on the negotiating table, and whether she would take the view of either her Foreign Secretary or her Defence Secretary? If defence is not on her list, it should be. We have been working on many joint ventures of common interest, including cyber, hybrid warfare—and, of course, the refugee situation in the Mediterranean.
We are now all concerned about the economy: the pound against the dollar and the euro. This will impact on defence spending. Since 2010 we have had two defence and security reviews. Philip Hammond has concentrated on reducing personnel and committing to building up reserve forces. The first was easy; persuading people to sign up as reserves less so. But it has left us with a force where we do not have the skills we require and yet we have expensive infrastructure to service. The second review was last year, under Secretary of State Michael Fallon. It put in place, across the three forces, the necessary hardware and other infrastructure to support our defence strategy and work effectively in the world into the future.
Our fear is that we have a long shopping list in US dollars: F35s for our carriers; Boeing P8s to carry out airborne reconnaissance; and Apache helicopters made in the States rather than Leonardo ones made in Yeovil—not to mention much of the interior bits and pieces of the newly approved deterrent or Vanguard replacement, and some of the technical wizardry in the carriers, too. These contracts were signed before the referendum and, as we buy from the US in dollars, given the tumbling exchange rate, how much more will it cost us?
Staying with this theme, our next anxiety about Brexit is our declining GDP; 2% of less means that we will be spending less on our conventional defence. If these two financial worries really add up and collide, could we find ourselves with a new SDSR based on austerity and not on relative prosperity, as the last one was? Is the Minister in a position to indicate whether this might be the case?
I turn to the common defence and security policy. Until we leave the EU, we remain a member—but how much we are allowed to engage in that time will depend on the other member states. However, we would expect to remain involved in Bosnia, in the Mediterranean—dealing with migrant smuggling from Libya—and around the Horn of Africa on counterpiracy and arms and drugs smuggling. It may be that, without Britain, some skills and capacity will be lost. Prime Minister Theresa May and Secretary of State Fallon may be persuaded to let us participate, but the PM would be reluctant to be involved in anything resembling an EU army—to which she is opposed and which, had we remained a member of the EU, she would veto.
We must be clear that leaving the EU will leave us without much influence in the EU defence agenda going forward. We would hope to keep up bilateral alliances with individual states, and we are unambiguous in our commitment to NATO. As well as trade, the environment, science, research and immigration, we need to make sure that peace and defence do not get lost in the wash.
My Lords, this has been a rich debate that has covered a great deal of ground. Noble Lords’ collective expertise and deep understanding of the issues, which are manifest in their contributions, are immensely valuable.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that there will be challenges ahead as we make plans to leave the European Union. The UK will be the first member state to leave, so obviously we are in uncharted territory. At the same time, the EU itself is facing other significant economic and political challenges. All this is taking place in the context of a world that is interconnected as never before and where conflict, instability and mistrust of the established order are on the rise. It is right to question whether our withdrawal from the EU could have an impact on peace and stability, not only in Europe but in the wider world, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for making possible the discussion during this debate today. In seeking to answer that question, we must remain objective while recognising that none of us has a crystal ball to predict the future with certainty.
Our assessment is that there are indeed significant challenges to peace and stability ahead, but that they are not ones brought about by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, nor do we assess that they will be exacerbated by our leaving the EU. That is because we remain absolutely committed to promoting and defending global peace and security and the rules-based international order. As a number of noble Lords have indicated, we remain an influential permanent member of the UN Security Council, the second largest contributor to NATO and a leading member of the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth. My noble friend Lady Helic underlined the importance of that. We remain an outward-facing nation and a force for good, with a diplomatic network that is respected across the world. We will continue to put that network to good use, working with our international partners, including our European neighbours, to find solutions to some of the world’s most complex challenges. I hope that reassures the noble Lord, Lord Collins, who dwelt on these aspects in his contribution.
The challenges include those from state and non-state actors, social and economic tensions, conflict, corruption, climate change, poverty, inequality and intolerance. In Europe, a resurgent and revanchist Russia has defied the established security order through its illegal actions in Crimea and its destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. Russia’s support for President Assad and its deplorable bombing of civilian areas are putting obstacles in the way of peace in Syria.
Further afield, Europe faces an arc of instability stretching from west Africa to the Middle East to eastern Europe. Conflict, fragile states and political vacuums have given rise to new and virulent forms of extremism that threaten everyone’s security. The migration crisis has its roots in these fragile states; instability far from here is causing desperate people to risk the dangerous journey to European shores. In Asia too, we face challenges to the rules-based international order from North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. I assure noble Lords that the UK remains engaged on all these issues and more, and leaving the EU will not change that.
Our global engagement goes beyond foreign policy. Our membership of NATO is at the heart of British defence policy and our commitment to it is absolute. We meet the target of 2% of GDP on defence and spend 20% of our defence budget on major new equipment and research and development. We are a nuclear power. The Prime Minister reaffirmed our commitment to Trident in July and we are a framework nation, both for NATO’s new enhanced forward presence on the eastern flank and for the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. We are the only NATO ally with this profile.
Our defence and security commitments go further. We are the sixth largest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, with British peacekeepers currently deployed in six missions around the world. We know that stability and prosperity go hand in hand, and we remain committed to spending 0.7% of gross national income on overseas development. We remain a passionate advocate for the women, peace and security agenda and the sustainable development goals. We are working hard to increase women’s participation in all areas of life to stamp out corruption, reduce poverty and tackle climate change. Indeed, as my noble friend Lady Anelay so eloquently indicated in the debate last week, we remain an international leader on the women, peace and security agenda. In 2006 we developed a national action plan, one of the first countries to do so, and in particular the Government’s commitment to the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative remains strong. So we have ambitious plans for the future.
In the time available, I shall try to deal with some of the more specific contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the issue of defence in relation to NATO, and I hope I have managed to reassure him with some of the comments that I have already made. He also mentioned Gibraltar. I make it clear that our stance on Gibraltar has not changed, and we will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, in a reflective contribution, quoted John Donne. If my memory is correct, the rest of the quotation is:
“No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main”.
I agree, because for the UK, the continent and the main, in the global world, includes countries beyond those in the EU, but together with all these countries, we have a mutuality of interest. It is very important that we do not lose sight of that.
My noble friend Lady Helic talked about the national security strategy. As far as I am aware, there is no specific proposal at the moment in relation to that strategy. On Russia and the Balkans, we have set out in our strategy the threats to the UK and our allies, and Brexit will not change our support and co-operation. On enlargement, which she also raised, we continue to support countries committed to the accession process as a way of embedding stability and addressing challenges through reform, particularly in the western Balkans.
There were some interesting contributions on whether leaving the EU in some way creates a severance with our other partners and relationships throughout the rest of the world. Indeed, there were some questions about what happens to our relationships with the countries of the EU and the extent to which we can continue to have bilateral or wider relationships with them. There are already some very interesting examples: the UK has constructive relationships already with all EU states, on a bilateral level as well as through the EU. France is an interesting example: we work together on a wide range of fields, not just foreign and security policy, but defence, energy, migration, transport and trade. When we leave the EU, we will not step back from these relationships. Therefore, I hope your Lordships agree that there are opportunities and potentially new relationships to forge, new relationships to strike with other countries—whether they are within what will be the remaining EU, or countries in the rest of the world.
I conclude by reiterating the words of the Foreign Secretary: that we may be leaving the EU but we are not leaving Europe. That might sound like a platitude, but it is worth while constantly reminding ourselves of that. We may be an island; we may have a stretch of Channel between us and the rest of the continent that comprises the land mass of the EU, but that does not mean that we fracture the relationships or various objectives that we have negotiated over the years on a bilateral level with individual countries in the EU. As a Scot who has lived with and recognised the auld alliance with France over centuries, I hope I can give your Lordships heart in saying that these relationships are possible. They can be forged, and they can be enduring.
I remind the House that Europe’s security challenges are our security challenges. Instability thousands of miles away has its echoes on the streets of our towns and cities. We will not be pulling up the drawbridge or turning our backs on the world. Collective action remains a cornerstone of international order and we will continue to work constructively with our European neighbours—and with our other international partners— to further our shared values and interests.
I thank your Lordships for what has been a very helpful and positive debate. We covered various interesting territory. I realise that for some noble Lords, there have not been sufficiently specific answers to some of the questions posed, and I understand the frustration, but we are at a stage in our journey to leave the EU where specification and more precise information cannot be produced. That is not being evasive: it is just stating a matter of fact, and I ask your Lordships to be patient with the Government in that respect. Finally, I thank all those who contributed to the debate for raising a number of important issues. These are matters that the Government will certainly continue to keep before us, and to which we will pay close attention.