How UK officials are trying to shackle us to EU military structures – despite Brexit

Brexit must mean military independence, or it will be no real Brexit at all. But with the focus on trade issues, the public and even MPs have been blindsided by UK officials’ attempts to shackle us to the EU’s military structures post-Brexit, writes former CIB Operations Manager John Petley.

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 29 March 2019.

There are, however, other important issues related to Brexit which have received much less coverage. Our relation to the EU’s military structures is one of the most critical. On this subject, Brexiteers ought to be united – our Brexit should be a very, very hard one indeed.

As a member of the EU, the UK has rightly been highly sceptical about EU plans for closer military integration – at least, that is, until after the 2016 referendum.

You would have thought that, following the Brexit vote, the EU would have done two things. Firstly, stepped up its plans for closer military integration now the that member most likely to drag its heels is leaving. And secondly, frozen the UK of the discussion.

What has actually happened is rather different. The EU has indeed pushed ahead with closer military integration. But not only was the UK included in the discussion, but UK officials have been happy to sign us up to closer military cooperation with the EU. This has been 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.

WHAT OUR GOVERNMENT HAS SIGNED US UP TO

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 14 November 2016 and 22 June 2017, relating to Federica Mogherini’s Security and Defence Implementation Plan and Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Defence Action Plan.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty makes our signatures to the current arrangements null and void on 29 March 2019. But both the EU and its supporters in the UK are keen for us to sign a new treaty which includes a commitment to involvement in the EU’s military ambitions. This must be avoided at all costs, or else 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.

BUT WHAT ABOUT BREXIT?

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 tethered to 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 known 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. Once we left, anything to which we had signed up would cease to apply anyway.

This, however, is being economical with the truth. Let us be in no doubt. Senior figures in both Whitehall and Westminster wish to see us shackled militarily to the EU after 29 March 2019.

It is not too late to achieve the clean break which is an essential part of a genuine Brexit – indeed, it is vital that we do so. Cooperation with EU member states under the auspices of NATO is, by and large, very desirable. However, independence from the EU’s Defence Union is another matter altogether. Why should we be involved with the EU’s empire building?

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. 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 we 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.

FIGHTING FOR OUR MILITARY SOVEREIGNTY

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, MPs are being made aware of the concerns expressed in this article. Many, sadly, 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 Mrs May’s Chequers proposal comes under attack from her own MPs. We are thus still a long way from any final sign-off agreement, and there is 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.

…………………………

Comment from CIB: John Petley’s informed expose is yet another illustration of why our long fight for UK sovereignty is far from over, even assuming a satisfactory Brexit in March 2019 (something which itself looks in great doubt). It is not only EU membership itself that poses a threat to our sovereignty, but our own Europhile politicians’ and officials’ willingness to surrender our independence by stealth to the European project in the guise of ‘co-operation’ and ‘partnerships’. This is precisely why CIB has no plans to wind down post-Brexit. We have been fighting for UK sovereignty since 1969, and we will continue to do so as long as threats like those highlighted in this article remain.

Photo credit: European External Action Service

Summer break?

Our Parliament has stated its summer recess. After the dramatic events following the publication of the Government’s Brexit White Paper, no doubt most MPs will be glad to get away from Westminster for a few weeks.

It is unlikely to be much of a summer break, particularly for Tory MPs who are likely to have an uncomfortable time in their constituencies. Conservative Home noted that support for Mrs May’s Brexit plan, a mere 33% initially, has actually fallen subsequently – to a mere 29%.

Brexit- supporting MPs are angry and at least one of them has turned his fire on one of the worst offenders – Olly Robbins, Mrs May’s current Brexit advisor.  “You shafted David Davis’ White Paper, didn’t you?” said an angry John Whittingdale.  However brilliant Davis’ alternative paper may or may not have been, it does seem very odd that his team spent months working on it only for May and Robbins to produce something different behind their backs. Not content with humiliating Davis, Mrs May has now sidelined his successor, Dominic Raab who, in spite of being called the Brexit Secretary, will in effect be Mrs May’s deputy. She intends to lead the negotiations herself, no doubt with the odious Robbins by her side.

Of course, there are huge obstacles facing Mrs May’s proposals as well. Our colleague Brian Mooney has called it ” A work that’s already scrap”. The parliamentary arithmetic is loaded against it. Even  Mrs May wouldn’t dare rely on Labour votes to see it pass.

It would take a brave person to predict what sort of Brexit we will end up with. Mrs May has made our final payment t the EU unconditional. We will have to cough up £39 billion come what may. That much is certain. Virtually nothing else is.

Readers who have taken Edward Spalton’s advice and read the COM(2018) 556 final document produced by the European Commission will note that agreement on the transitional terms is conditional on a full withdrawal agreement being agreed. “There might be a transition period” says the Commission, but on the other hand, there might not – and we have to hope that there won’t be. All the hullaballoo about the Chequers text has diverted attention to the damaging “vassal state”  period into which we would  be locked for 21 months, with our fishing industry struck a critical blow from which it will be difficult to recover.

It is not too late for the transitional agreement along with the proposed ongoing defence cooperation with the EU to be scuppered. It is not too late for us to part company with the European Arrest Warrant. It looks like we will be kicked out of the Galileo space programme come what may, according to the Commission document. Given that its long term goal is to track every road vehicle in the EU,  this is a small crumb of comfort in these uncertain times.

Of course, Mrs May could face a leadership challenge, but would it be successful? At the moment, it is hard to say, but there is no reason to believe that the White Paper is the final word. there is still everything to play for. Unfortunately, while many of us remain hopeful that  a better escape package will be produced and the Chequers plan will indeed, as Brian Mooney suggests, be “scrap”, none of this is of any help to businesses trying to prepare for life after Brexit. If the government is still a long way off producing a viable exit plan, it is even further off being able to tell business how this plan will affect them.

To end this summary on a more positive note, readers may enjoy this clip of Labour MP Caroline Flint rubbishing the calls for a second referendum. “I will never support that” she says. “If we’re going to have a second referendum, why not a third? or a fourth?”   She also claims that were a second referendum to be held, it would likely result in the country voting more emphatically to leave.  She confirms what we have been picking up from visiting Parliament- namely, whichever way people voted in 2016, the message MPs are getting is simply “A decision was made. Get on with it”.

Let us hope that someone does – and preferably someone other than the deadly duo of May and Robbins

Confusion and chaos

The Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames said recently that he didn’t think that in all his 35 years as an MP he had “ever known such a truly unpleasant and deeply uncertain time in the house” following the publication of the Government’s Brexit white paper. Michael Fabricant, the author of the hyperlinked piece, claimed that Sir Nicholas’ memory is playing tricks on him and that the battles over  the Maastricht Treaty were worse.  My colleague Robert Oulds from the Bruges Group agrees – threats of both physical violence and blackmail were used by the whips of John Major’s government. We haven’t quite got to that point – yet.

Even so, the atmosphere in Parliament is one of confusion and chaos. “We really don’t know what is going on” said one MP.  He is not the only one. A spate of ministerial resignations has been followed by the submission of a letter by Philip Davies, the MP, to the Prime Minister stating that he has “lost trust” in her ability to deliver the EU referendum result.

Mrs May is likely to cling on until the recess next Tuesday, unless firm evidence can be found which will confirm that the current impasse is something she has created deliberately and that she doesn’t want us to achieve a successful break from the EU.  Her unsuccessful attempt to bring the recess forward was defeated by MPs – and unsuprisingly, as it gave the impression of a Prime Minister wanting to run away.  Even if she does make it to next Tuesday, however, it is going to be a torrid time and Tory MPs can expect no respite when they return to their constituencies. Locals activists are incensed over what they see as a sell-out.

So what might happen? It would be a brave man to predict the outcome. Essentially, there are four possibilities: firstly, Mrs May manages to achieve a nominal Brexit based on something like the Chequers plan, but no doubt with a few more concessions thrown in. Secondly, the government falls and a general election is called. Thirdly, a second referendum may be offered to the people. Fourthly, Mrs May is ousted and a new Brexit strategy is devised by a new team.

Of the four options, the first would destroy the Conservative Party at the polls and could cause a split within the party itself. Given that the European Research group of Tory MPs led by Jacob Rees-Mogg has stated that it will vote against it, such an outcome would only be possible by relying on the Labour, Lib Dem and Scottish Nationalist parties. Labour is in a serious mess itself. Besides the deepening divisions within the party over antisemitism allegations, the party is disunited over Brexit. A minority of MPs support Brexit. Some, such as Chuka Umunna, see stopping Brexit as their main priority whereas the Corbynites are much more interested in seeing a general election called.

It is the fear of Jeremy Corbyn ending up in No. 10 which Mrs May’s team is using as a weapon against dissidents on both sides of her party. The effectiveness of this argument is questionable. However disunited the Tories may be over Brexit, the last thing any of them want is another General Election, not to mention that the Brexit clock would continue to tick during the campaign period, as it did during last year’s election. This is in no one’s interests.

A second referendum was recently proposed by Justine Greening, suggesting three options be put to the electorate – accept the Chequers deal, leave without a deal or abandon Brexit and stay in the EU.  The proposal was dismissed by Mrs May, although it is by no means an impossibility. There are nonetheless several reasons why it is unlikely. Firstly, it reflects very badly on Parliament. In effect, MPs would be saying “You gave us a mandate. We can’t deliver it so we’re throwing it back in your court.” Such a move would undermine the very authority of Parliament, although the Conservatives, as the party of government, would be the biggest losers electorally. Secondly, it would be cruel. There is no groundswell among the general public for another referendum. The message MPs have been receiving from their constituents has been simple  – “just get on with it.” Unlike the 2016 referendum, it isn’t wanted and what is more, it would reopen wounds which have largely been healed. Given the febrile atmosphere in Parliament, a second referendum would be fought in a terribly heated, bitter atmosphere which would tear communities and families apart. No sane MP could possibly want to inflict such pain on their fellow countrymen. There is also once again the ticking clock. The necessary legislation would have to complete its passage through Parliament and then a decent amount of time would need to be set aside for a serious campaign. With Brexit Day only just over eight months away, there just isn’t long enough.  Furthermore, why just these three options? There are others, including EFTA, which have some support.

So the most likely option is a new Brexit strategy. Time is short and would be shortened further by the time taken up with the inevitable leadership contest. Joining EFTA next March to give us a breathing space wouldn’t satisfy everyone, including some regular readers of this blog, but other options are running out. Even if a WTO-type exit were feasible (which some of us doubt), it would need time to prepare for it and that time just isn’t available. It also wouldn’t command a majority in Parliament. Joining the EEC was a complex business too; the government gave clear, detailed advice to business for over a year beforehand to ensure a smooth transition. There is no reason to suppose that the task  of disentangling the accumulated complexities through  Brexit would be any less.

Two years have been wasted. We are not going to achieve the Brexit we hoped for. Given the present chaos, if we achieve a smooth but genuine Brexit via the EFTA route, leaving some unfinished business for the period after March 2019, (such as negotiating a looser long-term relationship), most supporters of leaving the EU could heave a guarded sigh of relief.

Photo by Free-Photos (Pixabay)

 

Can anyone engineer such a shambles by accident?

On this website, you can read two assessments of the Government’s Brexit White Paper. Nigel Moore, one of our regular contributors, calls it “unworkable, risky thinking“, saying that it is highly unlikely that the EU will agree to it as it violates so many principles of the Single Market.   Meanwhile, taking a different angle, academics from the Brexit Studies Department at Birmingham City University have examined the plan and have declared it to be “Brexit in Name only”, keeping us tied to the EU with the only real change being perhaps a limited ability to control freedom of movement.

It is now over two years since the Brexit vote. Mrs May reached the second anniversary of her taking office last Friday. Under her watch, a new Department, the Department for Exiting the European Union, was set up, with several hundred staff employed. What have they been doing all this time?

Unless drastic action is taken, we will end up in a shambolic situation whereby our fishing industry will be devastated, our freedom to trade will be limited and we will still be subject  to virtually all the EU Acquis with no representation. It is the worst of all possible worlds.

It is not as if Mrs May isn’t aware of the less damaging EFTA option, which as a transitional arrangement, would at least get us out of the EU, save our fishing industry and enable  us to negotiate a longer-term agreement from a position of strength. We know that EFTA-supporting MPs have met with her. They seem to have made no impression.  The EFTA route would have solved many of the Irish border issues. The present plan still leaves many questions unanswered. The unfortunate Dominic Raab, parachuted into David Davis’ former position, challenged Mrs May’s critics to come up with a credible alternative. The answer is that they have and she ignored it.

What is more, It does not take much foresight to predict that her party would suffer in the event of a botched Brexit. We have been warning for some time that it could create the worst crisis for the Conservatives since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. It should come as no surprise to readers that since the Chequers meeting and the publication of the Government White Paper, support for the Tories has fallen by 6%, with UKIP being the beneficiaries. Only 17% of voters are happy with the Chequers proposals. Unsurprisingly, some Tory MPs are getting nervous.

The big question which needs addressing is whether this is cock-up or conspiracy. An interesting piece in The Telegraph mentions how Airbus has been double-crossed by the Government.  It spurred them to publish a dire forecast of the impact of Brexit before handing a prize £2bn RAF contract to US rival Boeing without a competition. What is more, the piece mentioned that Airbus officials met with Remainer Cabinet ministers. Just coincidence?

Then there is the question of what happens if, as widely expected, the EU rejects the proposals in the White Paper. Writing in CapX, Oliver Wiseman claims that although  Mrs May might claim that this is the “furthest the UK can go”, rejection may result in yet more concessions.

It is unsurprising that some MPs are beginning to smell a rat.  Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed that the PM was only ever “pretending” to deliver Brexit and that she was a “Remainer who has stuck with remain”.  This is a damning indictment. If proof can be found that Mrs May was never serious about achieving a successful Brexit, the implications are enormous.  Unfortunately, when her behaviour over the last two years is weighed in the balance,  it is becoming increasingly hard to hold to the position that the mess we are currently in – and which Mrs May seems so determined to continue – is entirely the result of incompetence.

Small teacup, big storm?

The agreement hammered out at Chequers last Friday went down like a lead balloon among Tory Brexit supporters. Here is the text of the final statement.  Martin Howe QC, from Lawyers for Britain, produced a briefing which expressed grave concern that it would leave us tied in perpetuity to EU law and forced to accept binding rulings by the European Court of Justice.

The EU laws in question were those relating to goods, their composition, their packaging, how they are tested, etc etc, in order to enable goods to cross the UK/EU border without controls. This does, of course, raise the question as to how aware critics like Mr Howe actually are that many rules governing standards within the Single Market are not actually set by Brussels. The EU merely acts as a conduit for laws originating with global standards bodies to which we would have to be subject regardless of the Brexit model adopted.

Note the word “goods” rather than “trade”. Mrs May’s proposals would have seen the UK essentially remain in the single market for goods but not for services.  This was never going to wash with the EU. as some commentators were warning within hours of the statement being released.

Its pie-in-the-sky nature did not stop a deluge of negative comment. A majority of Conservative Party members regarded it as a bad deal, so said Paul Goodman after conducting a snap poll for Conservative Home.  More ominously, a poll commissioned by Change Britain suggested that a deal along the lines of that proposed by Mrs May would cost the Tories a lot of votes. For example, 32% of voters would be less likely to vote Conservative if the Government agreed a deal which results in UK laws being subject to rulings by EU courts and More than a quarter would be less likely to support the Conservative Party if a deal meant that the EU retained some or substantial control of the UK’s ability to negotiate our own free trade agreements.

Still, if the EU’s spokesmen had acted quickly to reject the deal out of hand, it would have been a storm in a teacup for the Tories, which would have blown over. Simon Coveney, the Irish Republic’s Foreign Minister, said that Michel Barnier would find it “difficult ” to accept the  proposals. It is now quite probable that he won’t have to do so as a crisis has erupted at the very heart of Mrs May’s government. On Sunday night, David Davis resigned. Effectively sidelined by Olly Robbins for many months, the most surprising aspect of Mr Davis’ announcement is that it has taken so long in coming. With him went his deputy Steve Baker. Mrs May reacted speedily and appointed Dominic Raab, a prominent Brexit supporter, to replace Mr Davis. However, within hours of Mr Davis going, Boris Johnson resigned as Foreign Secretary.

This means that a small teacup is producing what could turn out to be a considerable storm. Mrs May is due to meet her backbenchers later this evening and especially given her decision to brief Labour and Lib Dem MPs on her Brexit proposals, the mood is likely to be sombre if not angry.

One Labour source said of this meeting, “It’s an opportunity to tell the PM’s chief of staff why the Government has got it so wrong.”  With that, we would agree.  Almost every government publication on the subject of Brexit is, at best muddled.  The fisheries white paper also appeared last week – its publication somewhat overshadowed by the dramatic events following the Chequers meeting.  We will provide some further comment oin this later this week, but suffice it to say it seems very optimistic, ignoring the determination of the EU to preserve its access to our waters and to control the allocation of quota if it gets half a chance.

With events happening so quickly, it is impossible to predict whether Mrs May will face a leadership challenge or indeed whether the Brexit talks will break down. However, we have been saying for some time that a crisis is essential if the disastrous Brexit plans hatched by Mrs May, including the fatally flawed transitional arrangements, are to be jettisoned. At long last, it looks like the crisis has arrived.

 

The EU is right – our government is wrong!

Shock horror! Can a Brexit supporter honestly utter such a phrase as the above?

Sadly, yes, especially when the subjects include cooperation in security and criminal justice matters. These two issues powerfully illustrate the illusory nature of our government’s approach to Brexit. It still wants to have its cake and eat it. Reality is dawning that this isn’t possible on the trade front, but somehow that reality has not spread to other areas where some sort of future cooperation is needed. Be it trade, criminal justice or military cooperation, the EU is concerned at all costs to preserve its integrity. In voting to leave, we dealt it a massive blow. Obviously, it recognises that some form of cooperation will be necessary but it does not seek a warm and cosy “deep and special” relationship with us. Yes, we were once part of the club, but we won’t be after March 29th next year. We made the decision to leave and we must accept the consequences.

To any Brexit supporter, this is perfect common sense. We knew what we were doing when we voted Brexit.  Among the many issues which we highlighted as a reason to leave the EU were concerns about the flaws of the criminal justice system in some EU member states and the need to disentangle ourselves from the EU’s military and security aspirations.

So yes, if the EU says we cannot participate in its flawed European Arrest Warrant scheme after Brexit, great! That’s what we voted for. Likewise, the EU’s disdain for Mrs May’s “ambitious future security partnership” with the EU won’t cause many Brexit supporters much lost sleep.  As a Third Country, we would no longer participate in several EU security data bases which hold intelligence and help track criminals. However, there are other means of cooperation over these matters. We have Interpol as well as Europol. The procedure may be more complex but at least UK citizens will be one step further removed from the EU’s interference with our daily lives. We don’t want the EU to give us special treatment. What is more, is Europol reliable? One report suggest that its statistics distort the truth about terrorist threats in the EU, with more emphasis being placed on monitoring so-called “separatists” than those who pose the biggest threat to ordinary people.

On a different note, we heard recently that Olly Robbins, who has more or less pushed David Davis into the sidelines and has become the de facto chief negotiator, has been told by the EU that there is no chance of a bespoke trade deal with the EU.  It will either be a very loose trading arrangement or what has been described as a “Norway-type deal”. There are strong opponents of both these options and even among her cabinet, Mrs May will have her work cut out to square the circle.

She has not, however, signed a letter promising a second referendum, Two separate copies have been sent to me, one by a very concerned Brexit supporter who feared Mrs May was about to  cave in to the remainiacs. If anyone has come across this spoof letter, try to find an example of the PM’s real signature. You will then see that it does not match the signature on this letter.

Observant readers may have noticed that we have said little about the latest EU council meeting. This is not because we were unaware of it but rather because it has been a foregone conclusion that nothing was going to be said to indicate any progress with the Brexit talks. We did pass a milestone last week when the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill became law. It paves the way fro the 1972 Accession Treaty to be repealed when we leave the EU in March next year, but as far as what our future relationship with the EU is going ot look like,  we are still none the wiser.