There is no doubt that the UK has been a leader in providing military support to Ukraine, though the EU has also made unprecedented efforts and adopted in every relevant field, from defence to trade to energy, determined policies to end reliance on and cut ties with Putin’s regime.
EU sanctions – not least against Russia - are very powerful sanctions, far more so that any single country’s sanctions because they represent full or partial exclusion from a huge market.
The EU has in general been much quicker than the UK to tackle the ‘Russian laundromat’ for ill-gotten money.
It has also adopted a much more generous and more effective policy towards Ukrainian refugees.
Putin wants to sow division in the West. He has welcomed Brexit, because it does that job for him.
The damage to the UK’s interests from not being at the EU’s top table is immense. The UK is not in the room when key – sometimes historic – decisions are taken. It is excluded from EU summits with the US and China. This is not ‘global Britain’. It is an isolated Britain.
The EU recognises that the UK has a huge amount to offer in terms of adding to Europe’s collective foreign policy clout. During the Brexit negotiations the EU offered talks on a foreign, defence and security policy agreement. Boris Johnson refused. This should be reversed.
President Macron recently launched an initiative known as ‘a European Political Community’ (EPC), for wider European geopolitical cooperation involving 17 non-EU states alongside the EU 27. The UK has decided to take part and should take full advantage of this as a staging post on its way back to the centre of Europe. The first EPC meeting in Prague in October 2022 focused on peace and security and 0n energy and was widely deemed a success. The UK is scheduled to hold the fourth meeting in early 2024, after Moldova and Spain in 2023.
Until we can be back in the EU, we have to work with the EU.
EU foreign and defence policy is based on the principle of each Member State continuing to have full control of its own policy. Where there is consensus, collective positions and action are taken.
In the case of military action, no Member State can ever be forced to take part – the Brexit faction’s scare stories about an EU army being foisted on the UK were entirely unfounded.
However, there are clear economies of scale and effectiveness gains in Member State forces working together, combining forces and avoiding unhelpful duplication. This is in synergy with NATO – which warmly welcomes such cooperation – not in opposition to it. Indeed, being outside the EU means the UK risks being outflanked in NATO’s strategic discussions by the 21 – soon to be 23, with Finland and Sweden joining - EU states who are also NATO members.
Ironically, the UK as an EU member was a strong participant in defence cooperation – for example, the British Navy led EU collective efforts to combat marine piracy and protect EU shipping. Even after Brexit, bilateral and multilateral military cooperation, especially with France, is a key tenet of UK policy.
In November 2022, the EU Member States (all except Denmark and Malta) who participate in Permanent Structured Defence Cooperation (PESCO) accepted the UK’s request to take part in a key PESCO project, on military mobility. This is clearly common sense in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and of the US’s existing participation in the PESCO military mobility project. But this is only one of 60 PESCO projects overall and the nature of the UK participation – subject to agreement by EU states and with limited involvement in collective decision-making – is yet another manifestation of the loss of influence inherent in Brexit.
Another area where EU defence policy is an added value – one which has evolved enormously in recent years and is now lost to the UK – is in common procurement, where the scale of coordinated EU orders for military equipment means both more efficiency and cheaper prices.
The EU’s huge economic and trade power is in itself a massive geopolitical asset and source of global influence. The single market is a powerful foreign policy tool as well as a domestic economic benefit.