The shrieking, the hypocrisy and the foot dragging just seem to go on and on. I have to ask myself, “Haven’t we been here before with Theresa May? Weren’t we on the verge of success at least three times in the past?”
Now, after votes of no confidence, a change of Prime Minister and endless grief we seem to be in exactly the same place with another extension from the EU coming up, only rumours of a general election and a perfectly good deal unreasonably delayed. Like every other sane person I’m sick to my socks of Brexit being pushed back again and I find the Government’s chant of ‘let’s get it done’ extremely attractive – until a siren voice tells me that something very dangerous and very slippery has already been set in motion by the Tories.
Beneath the overwhelming din of the debate, behind the smoke screen of trade tariffs, tax exclusion zones and backstops, the sovereignty and independence of our foreign policy and defence is in jeopardy. Despite my instincts, we need time to look at what the latest deal conceals.
Conjure with this: six years ago, after two decades of eastward expansion, the EU (spearheaded by Germany) engineered a coup to topple the democratically elected premier of The Ukraine. He was a replaced by an unelected puppet and a crisis unfolded which led Moscow to reclaim The Crimea and begin a war which still smoulders in Donbass today. Warming relationships with Russia were slammed back in the freezer by Berlin and Brussels and a highly dangerous situation provoked. Had a European Army properly existed, those troops could have been used to enforce the West’s will. Now it seems as though plans are advancing for such a force and by a series of misguided agreements on Mrs May’s watch, our defence industries, troops, material and intelligence machinery could still become part of this project. It looks as though our military autonomy has been used as a bargain chip to soften Brexit.
Let me elaborate. During negotiations, the Foreign Office sought to bind Britain into a number of structures which had been created so that the EU Commission could control the entirety of Europe’s defence and security. First, we’ve agreed to continue contributing to and abiding by the rules of the European Defence Fund. In other words, Brussels will have first dibs on Britain’s defence funding.
Next, the European Defence Agency will dominate the design and procurement of Britain’s defence equipment. Our specific needs will be subordinated to Europe’s aims and designs – think how this might cripple our maritime strategy and frustrate, for instance, our attempts to defend the Falklands.
Then, PESCO – Permanently Established Cooperation – or an agreement for Britain to contribute forces to any EU force that is being deployed, despite the fact that we are withdrawing from the Union and despite the fact that we are first and foremost, members of NATO! One of the Remainers’ main arguments – that the European Union has been the linchpin of peace on the continent ever since it was established is nonsense: our protection has been guaranteed by NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which – and the clue’s in the name here – happens to include the super-power America.
It’s also worth a look at the state of the forces which are now being cobbled together to give Brussels some muscle. Foremost is Germany whose handful of troops in Afghanistan have to rely upon rented civilian helicopters to get about whilst none of their submarines are seaworthy! Meanwhile France, Europe’s other significant military player, recently had over 56 per cent of her aircraft unfit for operations whilst its army was not only significantly under-recruited, it was also heavily overcommitted. Countering the jihadist threat both at home and abroad has meant that France has had to restructure her forces and yet she chronically underfunds them.
Now this ramshackle outfit seems to have the guarantee of Britain’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines being strapped to it, even though we are about to haul down our Euro colours. If this process is not stopped, our troops, ships and aircraft could be required to execute the next coup that Europe chooses to stage. As it stands, even after Brexit, our forces would be at the whim of the EU’s foreign policy as well as its rules and protocols for defence as part of a legal, binding, treaty. So, EU law would still pertain and Britain would be structurally, politically, diplomatically and financially bound to the defence structures of the unaccountable EU Commission.
Just let me spell this out: unless we explicitly scrap these measures once we’ve left the EU, the considerable slice of our taxes that we spend to maintain our forces, the lives and blood of our warriors as well as the endeavours of our vital intelligence agencies will be controlled and directed by people who cannot be brought to account for their actions. The EU Commission is not elected – we cannot change it at the ballot box – and yet the last Tory Prime Minister moved willingly and wittingly to surrender the first and sacred duty of any government – the safety of the people and the realm.
Now, I reckon that many of our current batch of MPs realise that they will not survive the next general election. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas: when that election comes their salaries, expenses and pension increments will disappear and few will be employable. Perhaps these venal reasons rather than any principles dictate why Mr Johnson is finding it so hard to get two thirds of the House to agree to a poll.
But, let’s make a virtue out of any delay and use it properly to draw the teeth not just from the defence debacle I’ve described but also any other lurking horrors.
Patrick Mercer OBE is an ex-soldier and the former Conservative MP for Newark.