People have asked whether the UK remains under EU defence policy during the transition.The answer is yes, the UK remains EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) until 31st December 2020.
This policy is a general term which not only includes the common formation of decisions and strategy, it also describes the political-military structures the EU has rapidly created since we voted to leave the EU. We find ourselves in all but one of these (we are absent from EU Permanent Structured Cooperation), though it appears that UK participation in the others eg European Defence Fund, European Defence Agency and an MOD budget steering mechanism called CARD have all been minimal.
However the Political Declaration inherited by Boris Johnson expresses an expectation for the UK to opt into all of these structure post-Brexit (including Permanent Structured Cooperation). However it is not an obligation like it was under the previous version of the PD up to October 2019 which so nearly gained Parliamentary assent – it would have spelt the beginning of the end of British military autonomy.
EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) takes place at such a high political policy level that it is not uncommon for senior military officers to swear blind that it doesn't exist apart from 'occasional exercises and training mission'. It is far more significant than that and EU defence policy now increasingly covers the following fields: space capabilities; joint equipment planning; joint funding; intelligence; national defence budgeting decisions and national prioritisation/expertise; a mutual defence response; an overseas crisis management response where mandated by the EU Council; and the regulation of national defence contract competition in a way which prevents most contracts being allocated to national industry.
In February, eurosceptics were pleased to see that the UK's negotiation plan did not include defence or defence industrial programmes which could drag the UK back under the growing scope of EU defence decision making. There has been no formal confirmation of this point however, which is a considerable omission and continues to create concern.Nevertheless, if ministers stick to a defence-free negotiating and the UK comes out of the wider EU rules and treaties on 31st December 2020 then we should regain our defence and foreign policy decision-making. This would simultaneously remove any threat of being sucked into EU programmes, structures and frameworks, or whatever they call these legalistic schemes which are in effect a con designed to aggregate member states' activities under EU political control.
However one continuing problem is the nature of UK laws governing defence procurement.It looks likely that MPs will actually retain EU law in this area albeit without European Court of Justice oversight.This would mandate international competition for large defence industrial and defence shipbuilding contracts, therefore preventing the UK Government exercising its WTO right to keep defence contracts at home through a UK-only competition.It would be an act of self harm if MPs continue on this course of action but it would be a victory for Remainer factions in the civil service who have pushed for this all along.
There is apparently a determination among industry, encouraged by the civil service, to stay aligned with EU defence procurement rules, because industry have been mis sold a line that says they would benefit. The EU defence procurement rules are bad enough for blocking domestic-only competition but they also enable wider policy obligations.
In short, defence procurement regulation needs to be completely repatriated in early 2021 and not just in name as Whitehall is planning. If this does not happen, Starmer will retain a bridge allowing him to enter those wider policy obligations in 3 years' time.