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EU Withdrawal: Effect on National Security

Volume 608: debated on Monday 18 April 2016

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effects of withdrawal from the EU on UK defence and national security. (904482)

NATO remains the cornerstone of the United Kingdom’s defence, but the European Union has an important complementary role in addressing and managing international crises, especially where NATO cannot, or chooses not to, act. Our response to the complex security threats we face requires a united, comprehensive approach, including the European Union’s diplomatic, humanitarian and economic levers.

Our most important defence allies, including a certain US President, who will visit this week, have recognised that leadership and membership of the EU are vital for Britain’s national security and place in the world. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the implications of leaving the EU for our transatlantic alliance and our national defence?

I cannot think of one ally—never mind the United States—that thinks that the world would be safer or that we would be safer if we left the European Union. Let me be clear: our central defence rests on our membership of NATO, but there are things that the European Union can add to that—not least, for example, the recent action taken against Russia after its annexation of Crimea and its interference in eastern Ukraine. It was the European Union that was able to apply economic sanctions—something NATO cannot do.

President Obama is indeed visiting the country later this week. Nobody doubts for a second the total commitment of the United States to NATO, and nobody claims for a second that, just because the United States is not in the EU, it is any less committed to national defence, NATO or anything else—indeed, it would never surrender a jot of its sovereignty. The fact is that our security depends on NATO, not the EU, and if we leave the EU, we will be just as safe as we are now.

My hon. Friend and I, although we have been friends for many years, differ on this matter. Let us be clear: the United States, as we do, shares its sovereignty by its membership of NATO—by being prepared to come to the aid of other NATO members under the obligations in article 5. There are many international ways in which we decide to share our sovereignty for the common good and for the better security of our country.

Does the Secretary of State recognise the enormous value of EU membership to our defence industry? That was recently reflected in an ADS survey, which showed that 70% of companies want Britain to remain in the EU. Does he agree that access to the European funding—particularly in research and development—is critical for British defence companies to maintain a leading edge in the global market?

I do agree with much of that. We heard earlier this afternoon of the success of the Typhoon sales to Kuwait. That European consortium was put together with four different European countries and is now successfully selling aircraft to eight separate nations. There are projects and programmes of such a scale that European collaboration is only beneficial.

Should this country decide to leave the European Union, would my right hon. Friend undertake to use his best endeavours to secure as much of the £10 billion a year we would save to boost the defence budget?

I do not anticipate this country actually taking such a dramatic step. Let me repeat: I do not know any of my Defence Minister colleagues around the world who would like this country suddenly to start leaving the international alliances and partnerships that it has entered, so I do not think the money my hon. Friend thinks might be available will be.