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Westlake Legal Group > National Security

Stephen Booth: There are reasons to be sceptical about the Brexit deal. But its security provisions aren’t one of them.

Stephen Booth is Director of Policy and Research at Open Europe.

In the vociferous debate about the proposed Brexit deal, the implications for UK security and foreign policy have come a distant second to economic and institutional considerations. However, this week Richard Dearlove, former MI6 head, and Charles Guthrie, former chief of defence staff, have written to Conservative Associations warning that the Brexit deal will “threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways” and bind the UK into “new sets of EU controlled relationships”. We certainly should debate the UK’s future security and foreign policies in light of Brexit, but there are several reasons why these dire warnings about the proposed deal are either misplaced or implausible.

Successive UK governments have cooperated selectively with the EU in security and foreign policy, reflecting concerns about the direction of travel or degree of integration. The UK secured opt-outs from EU law enforcement and internal security integration and many Brexiteers cited the erosion of these protections by ECJ jurisprudence as justification for withdrawal. Nonetheless, matters of external security, defence and foreign policy were largely protected by our national veto, the threat of which the UK successfully used to prevent EU ambitions for an autonomous military HQ, for example.

At the root of concerns about the proposed deal seems to be a fear about what might happen, rather than what the Withdrawal Agreement actually says. It is true that, during the transition period, the UK will be bound by EU foreign and defence policy decisions. The UK may be consulted on a case by case basis, but we will no longer have a formal role in shaping these decisions or be able to lead any resulting operations. However, crucially, throughout the transition period, the UK can refuse to apply EU decisions for “vital and stated reasons of national policy” – we have a de jure veto. The UK will be bound by existing EU rules on police and judicial cooperation during this time, but will be excluded from new rules that fall under our existing law enforcement and Schengen opt-outs.

If the UK were to enter the Backstop, either in 2021 or by 2023, there is no agreed provision for UK-EU security and foreign policy cooperation. UK commitments under EU law and the Withdrawal Agreement would fall away and the basis for cooperation would need to be negotiated either separately or under the auspices of a comprehensive UK-EU future partnership. The UK would not be legally obliged as a result of the deal to do anything, although the Withdrawal Agreement provides both sides with the option of agreeing a successor security agreement – obviously the UK would have a veto over this.

It is further argued by the deal’s critics that “buried in the Agreement is the offer of a ‘new, deep, and special relationship with the EU in defence, security and intelligence”, which would undermine the UK’s three core security and foreign policy relationships with NATO, our US bilateral agreements and Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangements”. This warning presumably refers to the joint UK-EU Political Declaration on the framework for the future partnership.

First, as many critics of the deal have pointed out, the Political Declaration is not legally enforceable, whereas the Withdrawal Agreement would be. At this stage, it is simply an “offer” and does not bind the UK. Indeed, the lack of legal enforceability of the Political Declaration is the typically-cited reason for opposing the deal. Here the assumption is that the Political Declaration is binding. It is not.

Second, the future relationship foreseen in the Political Declaration is impossible to reconcile with the claim that it would undermine the UK’s core security relationships. Indeed, the declaration states that the entire future relationship should provide exceptions for matters of national security, which is the “sole responsibility” of the UK and the EU’s member states respectively. The UK could “participate on a case by case basis” in EU-led security and defence missions and be consulted accordingly. Intelligence sharing would be “voluntary” and the parties would “produce intelligence products autonomously”. The UK and the EU would pursue “independent sanctions policies driven by their respective foreign policies”. None of this would compel the UK, or the EU, to do anything at all with regards to external or security policy, other than keep the other party informed.

Finally, it is unclear what alternative, if any, form of cooperation with the EU the authors of these warnings would find acceptable. There is no doubt that past and future UK governments would rank the three core relationships with NATO, bilaterally with the US and Five Eyes, as the most important (a Jeremy Corbyn-led government might prove the exception). However, successive governments have also acknowledged that the UK must also promote its interests, both offensively and defensively, with European partners and allies. The UK has a close bilateral relationship with Europe’s only other globally-relevant military and defence power, France. This is underpinned by bilateral treaty, but France is actively pursuing its foreign policy interests via the EU and therefore cooperation with the French could well mean working with the EU to some degree. The question is on what basis.

Leaving the EU is likely to mean the UK will not be able to formally shape, lead or veto EU foreign policy or defence decisions in the future. This is a direct consequence of Brexit. Equally it means we will not be directly bound by them. It is possible to argue that the EU is being short-sighted in only offering the UK take it or leave it European cooperation on security and foreign policy issues. This may yet change, and if the EU wants to secure UK cooperation, our ability to provide resources and capabilities will be of immense value and therefore provide us with influence.

Nevertheless, it will be up to future governments to work out how best to further UK foreign policy interests independently of and sometimes in cooperation with the EU. Nothing agreed to date would prevent the UK from refusing to take part in EU-led or “controlled” initiatives or from insisting that any future cooperation would only be provided under a NATO umbrella.

There are many valid reasons to be sceptical about the Brexit deal. My judgement is that, on balance, it is worth supporting. But the concerns raised by Sir Richard and Lord Guthrie don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Rebecca Lowe: Why the taxpayer should fund space exploration

Rebecca Lowe is Director of FREER — a new initiative promoting economic and social liberalism, based at the IEA, where she is a Research Fellow. 

Revelling in things that are non-quantifiably, hard-to-explain, valuable for their own sake is one of the great features of being human. For me, one of these things is an interest in space. Rockets, stars, impossible questions about infinity — you name it, I’m a sucker for it. Sure, there are great practical reasons to learn about all this. But space is also just, well, exciting and wonderful and frightening and beautiful — all of those slightly embarrassing, overly emotional words — in itself. One of my favourite childhood memories is looking at the stars with my dad; I rarely do so these days without thinking about and missing him. He loved the idea and reality of space even more than me.

Like most of us, though, I don’t make enough time for my less pragmatic interests. I’m never going to be an astronaut or an astronomer, so I don’t prioritise reading or thinking about their domain. Having disbanded my usual priorities over the Christmas break, however, I read the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s excellent 2013 book about his three missions in space and what he’s learnt from them. It convinced me that space exploration can be used as an exemplar point for many standard arguments within the realm of politics and policy. (Or, yes, maybe I just want to prolong the holidays and think about this stuff some more.)

Hadfield spends a great deal of the book — both explicitly and implicitly — justifying the existence of the Canadian space programme. Its enterprises are, unsurprisingly, vastly costly to the taxpayer. He does a great job: emphasising the educational benefits, defence and geopolitical gains, advances brought to medical science thanks to astronauts’ experimentation, and so much more. The man is a (space)walking example of why space travel is important. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that taxpayers should fund it, does it? At the least, it doesn’t tell us anything about the extent to which they should.

This leads to a crucial yet overlooked problem. We don’t spend enough time truly justifying taxpayer expense. Governments don’t. Policy-thinkers don’t. Sure, people do sums, and make clever arguments. But, too often, we’re left dependent on idealised aggregate answers, such as estimates of the welfare-maximising level of government spending as a proportion of GDP, and the like. The personal tax burden here is at its highest for decades, yet we rarely hear an acceptance of that truth, never mind concerns about it. And without that acceptance and those concerns, we can’t get down to the important work of determining what should indeed be paid for by the taxpayer — and how this changes over time.

There are two main reasons why things might genuinely need to be funded in this way. The first is that they are essential — or justifiably desirable — yet might not otherwise come about. This is usually termed along the lines of a ‘public good’ argument: we won’t each voluntarily choose to pay for a proper nationwide road system, so the state had better tax people and set it up for them, and so on. It’s probably the case that too many things are lumped into this reasoning, but it surely stands regarding some necessities. The second reason is that these are things that the state (read taxpayer) ’should’ fund, for other reasons aside from (or on top of) necessity of provision, often on the grounds of principle. These are much trickier, and include examples ranging from “education is tainted by the profit motive”, to “we can’t trust our national security to a motley band of foreign mercenaries”.

Space travel is almost always funded by the taxpayer — certainly outside of America — and the usual ‘argument’ given is that it has to be: that it wouldn’t happen otherwise. This argument depends on two assumptions: that space travel has to (or should) happen, and that there is no other solution than state funding. For now, let’s give the first assumption the benefit of the doubt. Hadfield et al make a convincing case, not least in terms of the twenty first-century space-race context. If a drone can stop an airport, just imagine what an enemy country could do with modern space power. The proponents of ’space diplomacy’ are currently seeking to counter the rise of ‘space militarism’ — this is not a battle we can realistically ignore.

But to what extent should this be funded through general taxation? Space X and Virgin Galactic are becoming household names, and many other private space companies are making leaps and bounds. These leaps are nowhere near Neil Armstrong’s yet, however. Sure, the private sector is driving the UK’s capacities in this area: Gabriel Elefteriu, a space-policy expert, points out that the UK’s ‘domestic space champions include Inmarsat, one the of world’s largest satellite operators, and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), the world’s leading small-satellite manufacturer’. But the truth is that nobody’s getting to the moon without vast amounts of state support, and even the most successful private space companies tend to depend on state grants, and have the incentive of big (American) government contracts. The recent Lunar X Prize competition proved quite how expensive participating in the field is — this neat MIT article explains that the un-won $20 million prize was ‘actually relatively little money: to have any chance at winning, teams found, they needed much more’.

Yes, as private companies succeed, more investors will come to join the brave early adopters. Yes, we should thank the rich people who advance science for all of us by blowing their money on their far-off dreams of joining Branson or Musk in space. Yes, competition will drive up standards and push down costs. But, for now, it’s hard not to accept that space travel is dependent on the Government committing our hard-earned cash.

The best arguments for this emphasise our need to be protected through advances in defence capabilities, ranging from military to medical technology. But they also respond to that fundamental interest — that human need and desire — to know more about the universe, to engage with it, to play our part and explore and achieve. To value knowledge in itself, and our world for what it is. If we agree to take part in organised society, and therefore recognise that the state has a role to play in our lives, then it seems as if space exploration is a good that the state can enable, for the benefit of all mankind. Of course, the level of spending on this still needs to be justified, and we must continue to keep assessing its relative importance. But there’s something about space that just won’t go away.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Chloe Westley: As a migrant to Britain, I say: what’s wrong with patriotism, borders and control?

Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

When I was a child, I remember our teachers playing Imagine by John Lennon at a school assembly. I thought the sentiment was lovely. All people living in peace, no countries, no borders, no war. It’s a very pretty idea…with absolutely no basis in reality.

The modern Zeitgeist among academics and politicians in Europe is that borders are a thing of the past; that they are a nasty, xenophobic barrier to progress and co-operation, and any sense of national pride should be disregarded as backwards and racist.

As an immigrant to this country, I don’t understand this way of thinking. To deny the notion of nationhood and borders is to deny that there is anything of value in this country worth protecting, or any particular set of principles that divides British society from any other. But this country is special, and it is worth protecting.

It is a privilege to call Britain home. And it isn’t racist or xenophobic to expect the Government to protect and guard its borders, as well as to ensure the implementation of a fair and controlled immigration system. The desire to protect your home is as universal as the desire to love, to work and to raise a family. Why should protecting your country be any different? We put up fences and walls to guard our homes, but guarding national borders is somehow subject to accusations of xenophobia.

Globalists do not believe in maintaining national borders, because they do not believe that this country is their home. After all, if you believe that there is nothing that distinguishes Great Britain from the rest of the world, and reside here merely for convenience, then you would be satisfied being born or living in any other country. In fact, the way some on the Left describe this country with disdain, you would think they would prefer to live just about anywhere else.

There are of course those who describe themselves as strictly ‘European’ – not citizens of the world, but citizens of Europe. They advocate a greater European superstate, to replace individual nation states, with a strict border around Europe. They replace nationalism with supranationalism – the community is extended to the European continent. Whilst this is a minority view, (just 15 per cent freely choose to describe themselves as ‘European’), it is worth pointing out that calling oneself a ‘proud European’ expresses the same innate instinct to belong to a country (albeit an imaginary country, as the EU is not yet a superstate).

Living in a world without borders, and without nations, would not magically result in world peace and a greater sense of belonging. Rather, people would seek other tribes to belong to – quite possibly even extreme political and religious tribes.

Moral Psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt lhave warned against the dismissal of national identity. The need to belong to and defend a community is an innate human instinct, and is often expressed by loyalty to the nation state:

“There is nothing necessarily racist or base about this arrangement or social contract. Having a shared sense of identity, norms, and history generally promotes trust…Societies with high trust, or high social capital, produce many beneficial outcomes for their citizens: lower crime rates, lower transaction costs for businesses, higher levels of prosperity, and a propensity toward generosity, among others.”

There are of course extreme forms of nationalism, particularly ethno-nationalism, that need to be avoided. We should strive for a golden mean of nationhood: one which allows citizens to care for and protect one other, to maintain national borders and traditions, which is welcoming to visitors and immigrants, and is fair and just in dealings with other nations.

A shared national identity doesn’t necessarily mean that citizens believe their country or their people are innately superior to all other nations. Your love for your family does not require you to hate strangers – but you would do anything to protect and care for them above other people, simply by virtue of them being family.

You cannot force people to stop loving their country. A shared national identity is what brings people together, despite differences in religion, politics, football teams and age. Because the thing that we have in common is our home – and we should take care of and protect our home together.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com