This was the first question put to TB at a Technical University of Munich event on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference at the weekend.
“So, you see,” he replied, “the European defence concept actually was started by a summit between myself and President Chirac back in the year 2000, and its really a very important issue because one of the things that I think is vital for Europe to develop in the future.”
Blair’s memory slightly failed him here. In fact the summit took place in December 1998. The resulting declaration makes a lie of any claims in the British mainstream media that Britain was not, and is not, fully behind the EU Military Union project.
“The European Union needs to be in a position to play its full role on the international stage,” the declaration says. “To this end, the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises.”
The declaration goes on to restate the requirements that this should happen both within the NATO framework and also within the institutional framework of the European Union (European Council, General Affairs Council, and meetings of Defence Ministers).
It is true that this is a declaration, and as such is not legally binding. Yet a declaration is a clear statement of intent; an intent which was first actioned the following year at the Helsinki European Council meeting, when the target date of 2003 was set for the creation of the EU’s Rapid Reaction Force.
Brexit and the UKGov EU Defence Union Prenup
Fast forward to 2015 and we began to hear the first overt demands from the EU side for an ‘Army’. The demands came from Jean-Claude Juncker.
"Europe has lost a huge amount of respect,” he told Die Welt. “In foreign policy too, we don't seem to be taken entirely seriously."
"You would not create a European army to use it immediately," he said. "But a common European army would send a clear message to Russia that we are serious about defending European values."
Juncker repeated this position several times during 2015.
Also during 2015, then Prime Minister David Cameron was visiting other EU heads of state to discuss the possibility of a ‘new settlement’ between Britain and the EU. Juncker made it clear to Cameron that defence union was a condition of any new settlement, a view echoed by Angela Merkel.
A source close to Merkel was widely reported at the time as saying, “If you want favours, you have to give favours … If Cameron wants a 'flexible Europe', he must let other members integrate further. Yes - opt out, opt out, opt out — and then shut up.”
Cameron got his “new settlement”, his ‘Best of Both Worlds’, and all the evidence points to the EU getting the commitment it needed from Britain for its unified military.
Sadly (for Cameron) he ended up with the worst of all worlds when the British public voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum. Cameron resigned as PM and was replaced by his equally Europhile colleague Theresa May.
Her M.O. has been to obfuscate, delay and pretend incompetence; all the while professing that Britain’s future relationship will be of greater depth and breadth than that which we had before, and reiterating that Britain’s support for Europe’s defence is non-negotiable.
Yet aside from such statements, defence has been off the table as far as the Brexit debate is concerned. By all political parties. By Leave, and by Remain.
Careful now …
Has there been a global political recognition that this “essential” policy of defence union is too dangerous to discuss openly? Does the ‘prenup’ still stand?
Returning to the Technical University of Munich, Blair had this to day about Brexit: “My view is that if you explain this properly it doesn’t help the Brexit case. Sometimes people, you know, you can use the phrase ‘an army’ without defining it in a way, you know, that people think, suddenly, you know, the UK armed forces are going to be taken over by, I don’t know, erm, Luxembourg or something. So we just need to be careful how we do this.”
Blair is being more than a little disingenuous here. No-one has suggested a scenario where UK armed forces would be “taken over” by another country. The clear policy is that UK armed forces would operate as part of a unified EU military force, under EU command and control and following EU foreign policy.
The implications of this should be clear: it would be much harder, if not impossible, for the British public to stop illegal interventions if the decision to intervene were made at the EU level.
But the other point Blair is making here is with respect to Brexit. “If you explain this properly,” Brexit campaigners will not be triggered and EU Military Union can be kept out of the public eye, if “we” are “careful how we do this.”
Our Own Capabilities
“I came to the conclusion,” Blair continued, “that although this trans-Atlantic alliance with America is extremely important, and we need to maintain it, the best partnership is a partnership where we have our own capabilities that are also strong. And this is why I think the concept of European defence and greater European defence cooperation is absolutely essential for the future, for Britain and for the rest of Europe.”
Blair gives something away here: he uses the term “our”. “We” should not rely on the alliance with the US; “we” should have “our own” capabilities.
Remember, he was speaking to an EU audience. He didn’t say “you” or “your”. He said “we” and “our”.
In Blair’s mind, then, “we” includes UK and the EU, together.
This is all very coincidental, because also in Munich at the same time was none other than UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who was speaking at the Munich Security Conference.
“As Ursula and I agreed … when we met at NATO earlier this week,” he said, referencing his German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, “Europeans should not be spending two per cent of GDP on defence for America. We should be spending it for ourselves and our security.”
There it is again: “we” and “our”.
Yet there’s a stark difference between Tony Blair and Gavin Williamson. The first is no longer a British politician, and so it could perhaps be argued that he is free to align himself with the EU in this way. Williamson, though, is a serving British cabinet minister who is supposed to be implementing Brexit. How can he be thinking in terms of a UK-EU “we”?
A day or so later, the UK Foreign Secretary was also in Germany, speaking to the the governing party’s think tank, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, in Berlin. “The future partnership,” he said, “that Britain seeks to build with the EU starts with the belief that our security is indivisible.”
So Britain’s security is indivisible from that of the EU.
The current Tory government is continuing Tony Blair’s policy from 1998.
Cameron, a Europhile, entered into a defence prenup with the EU to get his ‘new settlement’. May, a Europhile, appears to have continued the prenup as part of her deal. The Cabinet Office’s lead Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, a Europhile, negotiated Theresa May’s deal, and appears to be her puppet master.
Under these circumstances, how could they do otherwise?