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UK-EU Security Partnership

Volume 791: debated on Thursday 17 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they informed Parliament about the proposals for a future framework for a United Kingdom-European Union Security Partnership, including foreign policy and defence, that were published online on 9 May.

My Lords, the Government published slides on the Framework for the UK-EU Security Partnership on 9 May and these have now been laid in the Libraries of both Houses. The contents of the slides build on the Government’s position, which was set out in the Prime Minister’s Munich speech as well as in the future partnership papers published last year. On behalf of the Government, I apologise that Parliament was not informed ahead of publication.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the Conservative MP I heard say yesterday morning that the key to a Brexit process which carries the entire country with it is transparency, and that requires the Government to tell their public and their Parliament about what they intend? Does the Minister recall, for example, active participation in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who a few months ago denied that the EU had anything to do with defence? However, here we have a document that states:

“The UK therefore proposes a security partnership of unprecedented breadth and depth”,

running across the whole field of internal security, foreign policy and defence, and going beyond defence to include,

“development, capability collaboration, defence research and industrial development and space security”—

almost everything except continuing membership. If that is what the Government are proposing, should they not make sure that they carry Parliament and the right-wing media with them?

Yes, I agree that we need to be transparent on these matters. As I said, procedures have now been put in place to avoid such a situation happening again. The paper should have been laid before Parliament, but it was not and I have apologised for that. It is important that we have a full debate about these matters. There have been extensive discussions in Parliament and I am sure there will be more in the future. Of course, these are proposals which we have laid out. I know that many noble Lords have called for us to be more up front and transparent about our negotiating positions and we are endeavouring to do that as far as possible. The noble Lord will have noticed that the Prime Minister has announced the forthcoming publication of a White Paper on the subject and I am sure we will have further discussions in Parliament on that. However, on the noble Lord’s central point, I agree that we should have been more transparent on this occasion.

My Lords, is not the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, simply this: yes they did. It is in the Printed Paper Office and all we have to do is pick it up and read it? Does my noble friend also accept that, while this is an excellent paper, which talks about security relationships in Europe of unprecedented breadth and depth—as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said—the same principles and approach should also be applied to our close friends in Asia, Africa, Latin America and, in particular, the Commonwealth, because most of the action will be there over the next 10 years?

My noble friend is correct that they are in the Library now but, to be fair, his essential point that we did not put them there before they were published—which we should have done—is correct. Of course, we want ongoing security and defence co-operation with our many friends across the world as well as our friends in the European Union.

My Lords, these ideals are noble but should there not be an element of realism in this? Does the Minister not believe that Europe, unfortunately, often talks the talk on defence but does not put its money where its mouth is? I am afraid that many other countries in Europe have a very different view from us on foreign policy—on the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar, for example, and one could go on. We need to be very careful. Yes, we need to be tied into it because European security is our security—indeed, we have ensured its security and defence since 1945, with the Americans—but Europe needs to start pulling its weight and we need to be involved.

The noble Lord speaks with great experience and makes some very good points about levels of defence spending in other European Union member states—a point I have heard made by the current US Administration many times. His essential points are correct. Of course we want to carry on with foreign policy co-operation, but only in areas where we agree; we have retained the right to opt out of CFSP decisions if we do not agree. But where we can agree on foreign policy objectives and processes, we will do so.

My Lords, why could the proposal to switch from the American F35 to the much cheaper Eurofighter not be made earlier? That would have created savings, for instance to give the noble Lord, Lord West, half a dozen destroyers, if not a battleship to boot.

This is not my area but I am informed by my ministerial colleague that these matters have not been decided yet. I am sure he would be very happy to have a conversation with the noble Lord outside the Chamber.

We are delighted with these proposals, even if they are more like a list. Given that mention has been made of the White Paper, can the Minister nudge his next-door-but-one neighbour, the Chief Whip, and ensure that we have a full debate in this House on both the slides and the White Paper?

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that there is no existing precedent for a non-EU member to be part of some of the most important aspects of the proposed security partnership? Germany would have to change its national written constitution to enable the UK to be part of the European arrest warrant if we left the EU. On a scale of one to 10, how likely does the Minister think that is?

There is no precedent for what we are proposing. That is why it is an unprecedented proposal for a new partnership. Indeed, there is no precedent for countries leaving the EU, apart from Greenland. These discussions will be difficult and complicated. There are a number of impediments to agreement but we are negotiating in good faith. We hope that many of these issues can be resolved and we are working to do so.

My Lords, I want to add to my question to the Minister from last week. Has he been able to check yet whether he can accept a wager from me that we will still be in the European Union at the end of March next year? If he can, in the light of the story on the front page of the Daily Telegraph today, I am willing to raise the stake to £100.

I have not checked the appropriate parliamentary procedures but I would be happy to see the noble Lord outside. It is always a great pleasure to take money off a Scotsman and I will endeavour to do so because we will leave the European Union in March next year.