Supporters of Brexit have disagreed with each other – sometimes quite vehemently – when it comes to trade issues. Which model shall we go for? WTO? Canada? Norway? Take your pick, but you'll find someone equally committed to Brexit who will tell you that you're wrong.
The focus of the Brexit debate has been trade and no one would deny that our future trading arrangements with the EU and the rest of the world are an important consideration when it comes to life after 29th March 2019. There are, however, other important issues related to Brexit which have received much less coverage and our relation to the EU's military structures is one of the most critical. On this subject, all sincere Brexit supporters ought to be united - our Brexit should be a very, very hard one indeed.
As a member of the EU, the UK has been highly sceptical about EU plans for closer military integration – at least, that is, until the 2016 referendum. You would have thought that, following the Brexit vote, the EU would not only have stepped up its plans for closer military integration now the member most likely to drag its heels was leaving, but at the same time would be freezing us out of the discussion.
What actually happened is that the EU did indeed push ahead with closer military integration but, not only was the UK included in the discussion, UK officials were happy to sign us up to closer military cooperation with the EU.
This was done without most MPs even being aware of what was going on. They are not alone. MPs from other member states have been equally shocked on discovering what their representatives have signed up to. As usual, the EU has been less than honest. It quoted a Eurobarometer survey which claimed that two thirds of those surveyed wished the EU to have a greater role militarily. In reality, the question asked was "Would you like to see more or less EU engagement on matters of security and defence policy?" Respondents might have answered "more" thinking that they were answering in favour of the EU's member states doing more to support NATO, but the EU institutions took the overall positive answer as justification for a massive, sudden escalation in their powers.
Furthermore, the EU authorities claim that the initiative for several recently signed EU defence agreements came from the member states themselves. This is a blatant lie. It was The Times that exposed the burgeoning military planning taking place secretly at the EU, and the EU's defence supremo Federica Mogherini responded, confirming that the EU had been working on plans and would present them in due course. When it did so (in 2016), a number of member states – including the UK – expressed their surprise. This initiative had certainly not come from them.
So why did we sign up to anything after June 2016, considering we are going to leave? It appears that some Civil Servants were not only happy to sign on the dotted line but actually want to keep us entangled with the EU after Brexit. What about government ministers? They, including Prime Minister Theresa May, clearly have some very serious questions to answer. When it became know that the UK had signed up to a number of structures within the EU Defence Union, the explanation given was that it was only a formality; we were leaving anyway and so it was best not to show dissent because once we leave, anything to which we have signed up cease to apply. This, however, is being economical with the truth. While Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty says that when a member state leaves the EU, "The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question", let us be in no doubt about the fact that senior figures in both Whitehall and Westminster wish to see us shackled militarily to the EU after March 29th 2019.
It is not too late to achieve the clean break which is an essential part of a genuine Brexit and it is vital that we do so. Cooperation with EU member states under the auspices of NATO is, by and large, very desirable, even if during the Blair years, NATO began to stray beyond its prime objective of protecting its members, for instance in the bombing of Belgrade in 1999.However, independence from the EU's Defence Union is another matter altogether. We do not want to find ourselves at war with the EU, but inevitably, our foreign policy interests will diverge upon Brexit. Why should we be involved with the EU's empire building? No true Brexiteer who understands the nature of the beast we are leaving would wish the horrors of EU membership on their worst enemy. While it would obviously not be appropriate for a future UK government actively to seek the EU's disintegration, equally we should not seek to encourage any other country to join it.
The EU has claimed that if the UK pulls away from the EU's defence programme, we would be isolated militarily. This is utter nonsense. We would not be isolated as not only are we members of NATO but, free from the EU, we could conduct cooperative defence research and development projects with any partners we chose. What is more, we still have an excellent military – although parts of it are seriously underfunded – and are of course a nuclear power. The idea that by withdrawing from the EU's defence programme we would be left weak and vulnerable is laughable.
So what have we signed up to? We did not sign up to PESCO, the EU's PErmanent Structured COoperation (Note the word "Permanent") but we did sign up to five separate EU Council agreements between 14th November 2016 and 22nd June 2017, relating to the Security and Defence Implementation Plan of Federica Mogherini and the European Defence Action Plan of Jean- Claude Juncker.
In summary, without going into too much specific detail, unless we frame the withdrawal agreement deliberately to make our signatures to these agreements null and void upon Brexit, our military independence will be compromised. The EU will increasingly make decisions about defence and the process of gradual integration into the EU military machine will affect a number of areas - ownership of assets, defence procurement, intelligence, asset development, budgeting and research, to name but a few.
Thankfully, these dangers are being highlighted by Veterans for Britain, a grassroots organisation set up to highlight the risks to the UK militarily if Brexit is compromised. Thanks to their campaigning, a number of MPs have been made aware of the concerns expressed in this article. Unfortunately, many MPs are still unaware - particularly of the agreements signed since the Brexit vote and their implications for our future military independence.
We are heading for a turbulent period as Theresa May's Chequers proposal comes under attack from her own MPs. Thus, we are still a long way from any final sign-off agreement and there is still everything to play for.But with trade issues still dominating the press coverage of Brexit, it is vital that these other areas are not swept under the carpet. Brexit must mean military independence or it will be no real Brexit at all.
Author: John Petley
(This article appeared on October 22nd 2018 in Campaign for an Independent Britain online posts.)