Sir Nicholas Soames's speech during the debate on Leaving the EU: Security, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.
Wednesday, 18 January 2017
House of Commons
If I may say so to the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), whose speech I listened to very carefully, I am for my own part completely content that these matters should be left in the very safe hands of the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), who in my view knows exactly what needs to be done.
I am most grateful for this opportunity to say a few brief words following my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s excellent, bold and comprehensive speech yesterday, and to set out a few thoughts on wider security and co-operation after Brexit. In the Brexit negotiations, it will be necessary for us to set out the basis of our future relationship, as is described in article 50. I believe it is in our national interest to sustain, and to carry forward into the future, the highest possible degree of joint action on justice, home affairs, security and co-operation, scientific research and innovation, and many other areas of common and important interest.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the clear and concise way in which she set out the Government’s position. I was a staunch remainer, but I absolutely accept the verdict of the referendum and the need for the Government to now get on with it. As Churchill once said, “If there is bear in your bedroom it is not a matter for speculation”. So at the same time as these very difficult and complex negotiations on trade and all the other myriad issues take place, this is an important time for us to set out, as the Prime Minister did in her speech, a clear case for a very close partnership and a new relationship of co-operation between members of the European Union and the UK. In my view, it should be as close as any sovereign country can be in military affairs, free trade and security co-operation.
That type of work with our friends—Germany, France and other countries—is of the first importance. In my view, our initiatives would be widely welcomed in Europe, running in parallel with the rather more complex and tricky negotiations on the article 50 transaction. That is where Britain can bring something positive, useful and of proven worth to the table. Thus, in my judgment, we should aim to maintain our excellent co-operation on security and enhance it further, including during the discussion of the new settlement. On many issues, we will continue to have an important interest in shaping EU policies after we leave, but clearly the United Kingdom is an important influence on the European security agenda. Our influence will remain considerable given our position as NATO’s most capable and willing European power. The recent deployments of Typhoon aircraft to Romania, army personnel to eastern Poland and, most importantly, a full armoured infantry battalion of 800 men to Estonia all serve to underline our profound commitment.
Inevitably, once the UK exits the EU it will become harder for us to translate that undoubted and important commitment into political influence. It is thus even more imperative that our partners and friends understand that we intend to continue the closest possible relationships in those areas, to our mutual interest. As the Prime Minister rightly said yesterday, she wants Britain to be the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, and a country that reaches out beyond the borders of Europe too. It is my fervent hope that our European friends will understand that it is our strongest wish that we play from the outside what role we can in making sure the EU succeeds.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need to put all the pressure we can on President Trump to make sure that NATO stays in place and that we build on our security around that? There is a real fear that he may not want that, in which case the pressures will change.
I very strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is very important. I have high hopes that the Prime Minister, when she visits President Trump, will make those points clearly. I hope President Trump will say something in his inauguration speech that will clarify what he meant by “obsolete” in relation to NATO. I am not offended by that. I was discussing it with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), and I do not think that President Trump meant it as an insult. It is true that there is much about NATO that is highly unsatisfactory and obsolete, not least because many countries do not pay their fair whack. It is very slow to transform and is not equipped for the new asymmetric hybrid versions of warfare that we will have to contend with, or as advanced as Russia, as has been seen in its unbelievably bad behaviour in Crimea.
Before my right hon. Friend gets back to his main oration, I would like to draw attention to the context in which President Trump was reported. He said that NATO is extremely important to him. He seems to be using the word “obsolete” in the sense that NATO needs to be not abolished but modernised to face new threats. We should not read too much into the nuances of the individual words he speaks, because nuance does not seem to be his style.
My right hon. Friend is spot-on, and I am sure these matters will play out. If one looks at the wonderful success of the security architecture designed by those wise men and women after the last great war, one sees how well it has served the world in peace, and in good times and bad times. This does not seem to me a sensible time to do anything other than support it.
With the threats to our common security becoming even more serious and in many ways more insidious, our response surely cannot be to co-operate with one another less, but must be to work together more. As the Prime Minister said in her speech yesterday:
“I am proud of the role Britain has played and will continue to play in promoting Europe’s security. Britain has led Europe on the measures needed to keep our continent secure—whether it is implementing sanctions against Russia following its action in Crimea, working for peace and stability in the Balkans”—
an extraordinarily important piece of work right now—
“or securing Europe’s external border. We will continue to work closely with our European allies in foreign and defence policy even as we leave the EU itself.”
I hope the Minister will agree that it is important that we demonstrate, even during the inevitable heat of the negotiations, our absolute determination to be good partners, allies and friends to Europe, and the fact that we are, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister so rightly said, leaving the European Union but most emphatically not leaving Europe.
Wednesday 18th January, 2017
No 93. Col 968