The strategy behind the exit deal’s defense sellout
Why would senior civil servants try to attach the UK to the EU’s military policy while we’re leaving?
How could they do something so damaging to our country?
For eurosceptics, it’s hard to imagine the motivation for something so offensive, but the answer is actually very simple.
When eurosceptics ask me about this, I invite them to imagine that Scotland had chosen to break from the UK in 2014. Would patriotic Brits wish to see Scots and Scotland remain within the fold of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces?
Most Brits would consider the destruction of the British military to be another unimaginably terrible consequence of the break-up of our United Kingdom.
So now put yourself in the clothes of those senior Whitehall civil servants.
The upper echelons of Whitehall have been selected and promoted for very different reasons than their belief in the United Kingdom.
In the decades of Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May, top ranks of officials have been selected for their belief in the EU. Over decades, they then conduct downward personnel selection and employee fast-tracking in the same context, while Whitehall itself is Europeanised and integrated into and under a Brussels chain of political command.
Their project, the EU, has now been challenged.
So it’s natural that they would react in a comparable way to the Scotland-UK scenario above.
Just as we regular Brits would have tried to preserve our UK with a military structure, EU-minded top officials are trying desperately to preserve their project with the same tool, a political ’emergency bandage’.
The difference between the two scenarios is that the EU’s military demeanour was only experimental in 2016. 2016 was the year when ‘Military EU’ was supposed to launch with schemes promoted as defence industrial cooperation which bring political military integration in the small print. That’s Brussels using its decades-old trick of using economic promises in order to gain permanent political control.
Top Whitehall officials had the complication of putting us into these schemes rapidly between the Brexit vote and the announcement of an exit deal and to do it all in such a way that no-one noticed what was happening.
This was fairly easy for them to do for three reasons;
- No-one in politics and the media knew what the EU Commission had been planning since 2014 as the idea of military integration had been comprehensively denied, especially during the referendum.
- The EU had planned to do a rapid and stealthy advanced in any case, making the timetable possible. Proposals would be set in stone by EU Council meetings and agreements.
iii. If confronted, the senior civil service would claim it was inconsequential to the UK ‘because we’re leaving’.
It was the perfect crime.
An interesting aside which will worry Eurosceptics is that Whitehall, in keeping with other EU member state governments, created a special unit long before the Brexit vote to handle the new EU defence arrangements which would soon be appearing. Their task would be to place these arrangements into the UK government’s planning agenda.
The unit, called the Euro-Atlantic Security Policy unit (EASP), was proposed long before we knew that a referendum would even be happening, which is a worrying sign of the long-tail and stealthy involvement in EU defence planning by the senior UK civil service. Stealthy because MPs, the media and the public knew absolutely nothing about the EASP or what it would be doing and had no idea about the EU defence integration plans. In many cases, they still don’t.
The EASP’s singular task in 2016 to 2018 was to manage and push for the UK’s permanent membership of the European Defence Fund, CARD, European Defence Agency, Pesco and a range of other acronyms of what we now know as the ‘EU Defence Union’ – all under the guidance of senior diplomats and mostly remainer ministers.
Despite the military nature of the EASP’s work, this unit is positioned within the EU-fanatic Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It’s all just too predictable.
We can say they have been ‘pushing’ for the UK’s permanent membership of EU structures because the EASP has been instrumental in placing these arrangements onto the government agenda without a single vote in Parliament and because difficult questions were always answered with highly questionable reassurance, if not outright deception, about the politically-binding nature of the EU structures.
The EASP and their ministerial masters are not the only culprits. Other teams involved in a push to attach the UK militarily to the EU have been the Foreign Office’s small UK Representative Office in Brussels, key individuals in the Cabinet Office’s Europe Unit and a tiny team of civilian human rights lawyers at the MOD, known as the European Bilateral Relations and EU Exit team.
No-one should underestimate the role of senior civil servants in this saga. Several factors point to this being a civil service-led programme. The sheer complexity of interlinking EU structures is a marvel of deception and a masterpiece of strategy and political control. It is impossible for anyone to have understood let alone coordinated attachment to these EU structures without having undertaken months of study.
It is impossible for MPs to do this in their busy Parliamentary schedule prior to becoming ministers and every minister has been bounced into this schedule of events shortly after taking officer.
It is impossible for a single minister to coordinate the safe passage of EU schemes through Whitehall without requiring the involvement of other departments of state. The timeline of UK consent, then attachment to EU defence structures since the Brexit vote in 2016 has been seamless, strategic, coordinated and clever, in spite of the fact that it has all apparently happened under a succession of very different ministers at the Foreign Office, Cabinet Office and Defence.
No senior minister has uttered a word about UK involvement in EU defence union structures. We’ve only seen junior ministers wheeled out and even then it has been simply to deny that the EU structures have any relevance. The similarity of those junior ministers’ words to the output of the EASP indicates that they are simply following a script. The same ministers, when put on the spot in front of select committees, have been much less confident. On every occasion that junior ministers have been called to give account, they have fumbled and become quickly confused over EU defence acronyms, turning to their officials for assistance. The mauling they have received from Parliamentary committees has been stunted, however, due to MPs’ own lack of knowledge for want of proper advice from Whitehall and Parliamentary committee clerks and House of Commons researchers.
What follows is a whistle-stop 17-point description of the strategy used by senior mandarins and remain ministers in relation to UK involvement in EU defence integration since those individuals became upset with the UK’s Brexit vote in 2016.
Strategy used by Civil Service / Remainer ministers 2016 – 2019:
- Join EU joint defence schemes
- Con MPs by saying ‘it’s for industry’
- Don’t tell them we’d be a rule-taker
- Keep command link as a surprise for later
- Make them think UK can ‘pick + choose’
- Disguise EU policy under ‘UK strategy papers’
- Develop a narrative which distracts from UK industrial losses as a result of EU rules
- Get industry on board with EU structures, say they’re pushing for it
- In the exit deal, mention just 3 EU joint defence structures, just ones we said were ‘for industry’
- Don’t need to name the others structures, just say we’d have the maximum commitment to those 3 and that they require wider legal obligations to other instruments under EU law
- That way we’re committed to join those other structures anyway
- Backstop means Northern Ireland would face being cut from the UK if we try to wriggle out
- Downplay the defence part of deal
- Tell people it’s just ‘continuity’ and ‘no change’. They’ll think it’s just the 2015 version of EU defence.
- If exit deal fails, just put all this in a trade deal
- Say ‘without defence the trade deal fails’
- Emphasise UK involvement we arranged in EU defence grants since exit negotiated started and say money would be lost if we don’t stay attached.