This article was first published on The Commentator.
Prime Minister, Theresa May, has received some criticism from Remainers for allegedly “threatening” the EU by simply pointing out how failure to reach a Brexit deal would adversely affect UK-EU co-operation on security.
May is, however, right to remind the EU of areas where it benefits from co-operation with Britain – and where it would lose out if it chose to drive too hard a bargain with us.
The hypocrisy of denouncing the Government for daring to raise the prospect of no deal, while taking every ludicrous ultimatum from the EU as entirely natural and justified, needs to be challenged.
Britain should not be afraid to talk about its strengths in Brexit negotiations – and another such strength is defence. We are the leading military power in Europe, with the fifth-largest defence budget worldwide – and along with Greece, Estonia, Poland, and the United States, we are one of just five NATO members currently meeting the bloc’s target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defence.
In matters of defence, Brexit is an opportunity to maintain the successful military cooperation between ourselves and our European allies. At a time when the remaining members of the EU are pushing for a fully-fledged ‘defence union’, by leaving we are not turning our back on defence co-operation altogether, but simply rejecting this pointless new round of integration.
The reports last month of a defence cooperation agreement between Britain and Germany, due to be signed at some point after the triggering of Article 50, should be viewed in this light.
The agreement, which is expected to cover areas such as maritime patrols, training, and cyber security, is an example of the sort of collaboration with our NATO allies on the continent which should continue after Brexit. It certainly dispels the myth Brexit will lead to this sort of cooperation totally disappearing.
However, there is no doubt a good Brexit deal covering defence would enable this sort of cooperation far more than no deal would. In matters of defence, as with security, and as with trade, a Brexit with no deal would damage the positive aspects of our relationship with the EU member states. That is no threat, but simply a natural consequence of there being no deal.
Given Britain’s military strength, this should be particularly important to the EU as we start Brexit negotiations. When it comes to military matters, the EU needs us more than we need them. Especially Germany, which spends just 1.2 percent of its GDP on defence. It is deeply concerning for the EU to have its pre-eminent power so lacking in military prowess and so reliant on Russian gas exports.
The EU is highly unlikely to remedy its military weakness in the near future, especially with plans for an EU army muddying the waters even further. There does not seem to be much political will, in western European countries especially, for defence spending to be dramatically increased.
The EU cannot be sure of relying on the United States either, especially with President Donald Trump’s administration in Washington decidedly lukewarm on the idea of protecting NATO members who fall short of the 2 percent spending target.
Ultimately, between Trump’s America, a belligerent Russia, and an increasingly hostile Turkey, the EU needs British cooperation and engagement on defence. As a result, our collaboration and support on defence will prove to be a major bargaining chip in Brexit talks.
It is time we dispensed with the myth Britain is coming into Brexit negotiations with a begging bowl. As we start the talks to Get Britain Out of the EU, we should recognise how on issues such as defence, our negotiating position is anything but weak.
A good Brexit deal is overwhelmingly in the mutual interest of both sides, and pessimism about whether we will get such a deal is wholly unjustified.