From having to stump up an outrageous divorce bill to be allowed to leave on the EU’s terms, to the debacle over the Irish border, Brexit negotiations have been marked by EU intransigence and the British government’s willingness to compromise. Throughout discussions the EU have played hardball forcing their position relentlessly and the government has given ground, unless strongarmed by the DUP.
Few have appeared as inflexible as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. In a recent speech to the Berlin Security Conference even he outdid himself. In an argument typical of his approach to Brexit Barnier framed the discussion in either-or terms; either completely in or completely out, even with something as vital as defence and security.
On the same day that Britain offered an increase in the divorce payout, Barnier was unrelenting in his suggestion that Britain was unilaterally leaving Europe in the lurch. In Barnier’s scenario Europe is facing a crisis due to terrorism and in the face of this danger Britain is running away.
‘[Brexit] was a decision taken . . . after a series of attacks on European soil . . . a decision that came six months after the French minister of defence issued a call for solidarity to all his European counterparts to join forces to fight the terrorism of Daesh. Never had the need to be together, to protect ourselves together, to act together been so strong, so manifest. Yet rather than stay shoulder to shoulder with the Union, the British chose to be on their own again.’
One would think that a Frenchman would remember the history of the last century and have been profoundly grateful that Britain had previously chosen to go it on its own. But no good deed goes unpunished, especially with the French.
So outrageous was Barnier’s attack that even the Guardian, which has consistently opposed Brexit and condemned British negotiating tactics, described this as ‘a dangerous and counterproductive tactic’.
To suggest that because Britain is leaving the EU it is therefore leaving behind any responsibility for or participation in European security is typical of the blinkered view of Europhiles that the EU alone is Europe and the only player on the European scene.
The clear implication of Barnier’s speech is that Britain, by choosing to leave the EU, has chosen to abandon any effort to maintain Europe’s security. This comes from the spokesman and chief negotiator for the same EU which has facilitated the indiscriminate immigration of hundreds of thousands from the Middle East including, as we have already experienced, terrorists and their sympathisers.
Barnier argued that once we leave the EU Britain will be reduced to playing an ad hoc role on the side-lines of European defence along with couple of dozen other partners. ‘Norway,’ Barnier sagely noted, ‘is one of the countries with which we co-operate closely.’ However, Barnier conveniently chose to forget that the UK spent the equivalent of 27 per cent of the total EU public expenditure on defence. Norway spent the equivalent of 3 per cent.
Barnier went on to compare Britain’s departure from EU security arrangements to the ‘strategic repositioning’ of the United States government. In doing so he equated our decision to leave the EU with what he sees as Trump’s isolationism.
In this he was at least right. The same force on both sides of the Atlantic brought about both the election of Trump and Brexit, namely the disgust of ordinary people with the self-regarding elites who govern us. Barnier seems oblivious to the fact that he is an archetypical representative of the smug autocrats who are our latter day ancien regime.
Despite expressing concern regarding the defence capabilities of Europe, Trump has committed the USA to continued support of collective security. In a speech outside Nato headquarters in May he clearly stated that the US would ‘never forsake the friends that stood by our side’ in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. A month later he committed the USA to Article 5 of the Nato constitution which binds members to mutual aid in case of attack.
Trump did, however, also press the other members of Nato to pay their fair share, or the agreed 2 per cent of GDP. Ever since the beginning of the Cold War, Europe has sheltered under the defence umbrella provided by the US taxpayer.
Few European governments are willing to meet their commitment to European security. The USA spends 4.4 per cent of GDP on defence – other than the UK only Estonia and Greece amongst European Nato members pass the 2 per cent threshold. The official average among European Nato members has crept down to 1.6 per cent – and the reality is closer to 1.3 per cent or less.
Despite what appears to be Britain’s willingness to try to allocate 2 per cent of GDP to defence spending our armed forces have been gutted under successive governments. A misjudgment by a cross-Channel ferry leaving Portsmouth could wipe out a considerable proportion of the Royal Navy, which is today smaller than the task force sent to the Falklands in 1982.
As Patrick Benham-Crosswell ably illustrated recently, it is not a matter of throwing money at the military but of how the money is spent. Expenditure does not automatically translate into combat effectiveness.
The government and the MoD have a poor record on spending, either on the strategic decisions which must be made or on getting value for the taxpayer’s money. Too many decisions have been made with an eye to vulnerable constituencies, too many purchases made without accountability.
A 2 per cent target for defence spending no more guarantees the money will be wisely used than a 0.7 per cent target for overseas aid guarantees it will not end up in Swiss bank accounts.
Despite Barnier’s posturing Britain will remain committed to the defence of Europe. The only real question is: Will we be able to meet that commitment with the armed forces we have?