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Allies and Partners: Co-operation

Volume 612: debated on Monday 27 June 2016

I hope you will allow me, Mr Speaker, to add my tribute to Jo Cox and her work on behalf of the Syrian people, which she pressed very hard on and which must never be forgotten.

Our strategic defence review set out ambitious plans to strengthen our work with allies and partners to promote our security and prosperity. We will continue to lead in NATO, the G7 and the United Nations, and maintain strong and enduring relationships with the United States and our other friends and allies around the world.

My constituency, my country and people of my generation voted against Brexit, yet we are going to be dragged out of the European Union against our will. This is the same European Union that plays an important security role in Afghanistan, in Ukraine and across swathes of Africa, as well as the vital role played by Frontex in the Mediterranean. What reassurance does the Secretary of State have for Scotland and for young people that this vital work will not be undermined by last Thursday’s vote?

The bedrock of our defence in the United Kingdom rests on NATO, and the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is committed to strengthening co-operation within NATO and collective defence across the alliance. We will be adding further reassurance to that at the NATO summit that is coming up in Warsaw the week after next.

What an utter shambles this is. I am afraid that that is not good enough from the Defence Secretary. We do not have a plan A for Brexit, let alone a plan B. The position of the Government and the Brexiters is confused. There is no plan on the table. Are we going to do a Norway? May I suggest to the Defence Secretary that we look at doing a Norway when it comes to defence, and we perhaps go for the opt-in that Norway has to EU defence schemes?

Norway remains and is a very valued member of the NATO alliance. We will be intensifying our co-operation with such countries. It is true that membership of the European Union complements our membership of NATO, and we are engaged in an EU operation in the central Mediterranean, continuing to save lives there and to disrupt the business model of the migrant smugglers from Libya to Europe. The Royal Navy will continue that task.

Does the Secretary of State agree that our relationship with members of the EU will remain as strong as it is today even when we are not a member? Given that nearly all members of the European Union are members of NATO, and that most members of NATO, leaving aside Turkey and the United States, are members of the EU, surely the fact that we are that cornerstone of NATO stands for our strong defence, and being a member of both involves some degree of duplication.

We have continued to argue against duplication between the European Union and NATO, but my hon. Friend is right. We have the very important bilateral relationships with other European countries—the Lancaster House treaty with France, and our growing co-operation with Germany—and I reassured both the French and German Defence Ministers last Friday that we will continue to work at those relationships and to strengthen them.

In the light of the result last week, will the Secretary of State reassure me that the United Kingdom as a united kingdom remains as committed in both the conventional and nuclear sense to article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty, for our allies in the eastern parts of Europe?

Absolutely. That article is one of the central commitments of NATO. We have, as my hon. Friend knows, committed to the 2% NATO defence spending target and we will be offering further reassurance, particularly to members on the eastern flank of NATO, at the Warsaw summit on Friday week.

Given the intensified bombing of Aleppo by President Putin over the weekend, and the important role that Britain played in stiffening European resolve on sanctions against the Putin regime, how concerned is the Secretary of State about the impact of the referendum result on European solidarity in standing up to Putin?

It is very important, not least because of the way in which Russia has intervened in the Syrian civil war, that Russia is held to account for its actions. We took the lead in not only proposing the sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in the Crimea—in the Ukraine—but ensuring that they were continued. They are being continued for the moment, but, obviously, once we are outside the European Union, our influence over that will be slightly diminished.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the upcoming negotiation on leaving the EU presents a huge opportunity to redouble our efforts at co-operation with our EU friends and allies? What plans does he have to support UK defence industries and cross-border investments, such as those in helicopter manufacturing in Yeovil?

We will continue the co-operation that I have already set out—our co-operation with France under the Lancaster House treaty, and the growing co-operation we have with Germany and, indeed, with other European countries. Our recent strategic defence review is international by design and prioritises working more closely with our allies. European companies that are invested here see a rising defence budget, and we hope they will continue to invest here and to compete for the various tenders we are making available.

Our military alliances rely on strong diplomatic ties, especially with our European neighbours. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure our Brexit negotiations do not sour these relationships and weaken our alliances?

As I say, I have spoken to all my fellow Defence Ministers in these key relationships, and we will have to work hard to ensure that these bilateral relationships are kept in good repair. We have strong defence relationships and defence sections in these embassies across Europe, and we will have to look at them independently and make sure in the Brexit negotiations that none of that co-operation—the joint training, the exercising and the co-operation on capabilities—is put at risk.

What representations has my right hon. Friend received from our allies and defence partners about renewing Trident, which the new shadow Defence Secretary described as

“a monumental mistake our country and planet can ill afford”?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are committed in our manifesto to replacing the four Trident submarines, and I hope Parliament will be able to endorse the principle of that replacement shortly. Our allies can rest assured that our commitment to NATO and our commitment as a nuclear power to NATO are not altered by the result of the referendum.

The Secretary of State will be aware that, as the pound plummets against the dollar, the cost of procuring the maritime patrol aircraft and the F-35s we were promised will undoubtedly soar. There will be inevitable consequences for forward procurement, including on the already delayed Type 26 programme. The Government warned that, in the case of a Brexit, there would be swift and savage cuts to the defence budget. Where will that axe fall, and when is it likely to fall? What will the Secretary of State tell our allies at the Warsaw summit, every one of whom was convinced unambiguously that we should remain in the European Union?

It is a fact that all the other Defence Ministers around the world were anxious to see us remain in the European Union, but the British people have made their decision. So far as the equipment programme is concerned, we are now negotiating for the maritime patrol aircraft and for the first F-35s to fly off the carriers, and I hope the negotiations will be concluded reasonably soon.

Scotland faces the very real prospect of being taken out of the European Union against its will. May I remind the Secretary of State of the first page of the 2015 SDSR, which says:

“Economic security goes hand-in-hand with national security”?

The UK’s membership of the European Union was an integral part of our defence policy. It was strategically valuable in promoting the UK’s policies and implementing our defence and security obligations. Given that the Brexiteers have won their referendum and the economy is now in freefall, what plans does the Secretary of State have to review the 2015 SDSR?

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman should be talking down the British economy, on which so many jobs in Scotland depend. I would caution his party against talking down an economy on which all our constituents depend. Our national security is of course the security of the United Kingdom, including that of Scotland.

At what will be my last Defence questions before I take up my new post, may I start by thanking the Secretary of State, and his office, for all the co-operation that he has given in the six months that I have been in this role? Whether it has been, for example, in arranging trips to Army bases or providing briefings on the fight against Daesh, he has been a generous opponent and I regret that I will no longer be his shadow.

At this time, the only thoughts of anyone in this House should be on how we can reassure the British people that we can keep our country safe and secure in the wake of the Brexit vote. We all need to pull together and work together on that, not just within our own parties but across the House as a whole. Will the Secretary of State please reassure us that leaving the EU will not put an end to participation in joint security missions with our European partners? He has mentioned the mission in the Mediterranean, but may I also ask him particularly about the highly successful counter-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her generous remarks, and I congratulate her on her move. I think the new shadow Defence Secretary is AWOL on his first parade, but we will welcome him and pay tribute to his service in uniform. He will, I note, be the fourth shadow Defence Secretary I have seen in under two years, but I hope he lasts.

Yes, it is very important that we reassure our allies in Europe and around the world that Britain is not turning its back on them. On the contrary, we are still playing a leading role in the world, and that includes work in some of the vital operations in the Mediterranean and off the Horn of Africa, some of which are led by NATO and others of which are led by the European Union.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer and his generous words. I shall pass on his comments to the new shadow Secretary of State for Defence when he takes up his post this afternoon; they are typical of the way in which he and his office have worked.

One particular concern that many people have is the implications of Brexit for our border controls. What will happen to our border control at Calais, what will happen to the common travel area with Ireland, and will the co-operation we currently receive from our European counterparts in respect of tackling illegal immigration be maintained? How will we go about resolving these issues? Will the armed forces play a role in that, and in what way can we keep our borders safe and secure?

My arithmetic may be faulty, but I counted six questions, to which I know the right hon. Gentleman will give a single pithy response, because we must make progress to other hon. Members who also have questions on the Order Paper—something it would have been good to remember earlier.

I will do my best, Mr Speaker, noting that the hon. Lady has postponed her defence review because she said it was

“important that the Labour party sticks together and is united”.

I leave it at that.

The Royal Navy will continue to play its part in assisting Border Force and other organisations—the European Union and NATO—in dealing with people smuggling and illegal migration, as the hon. Lady asks.