In the run-up to Tuesday’s vote in the House of Commons on the British government’s Brexit plan – which turned out to be even more catastrophic for the Prime Minister than had been predicted – Defence Ministers were arguing bullishly that Britain “will succeed,” regardless of whether the nation leaves the EU with or without a deal.
Speaking at Defence Questions on 14 June, Defence Seceretary Gavin Williamson told MPs “This country always has and always will succeed, whether we're in the European Union, whether we're outside of the European Union, whether we have a deal or no deal, Britain will succeed and Britain will prosper.” His remark was made in response to a question that highlighted the risks Britain’s defence community face as the nation leaves the EU: withdrawal from the Common Security & Defence Policy (CDSP), exclusion from the European Defence Agency (EDA) and from widespread research innovation projects it is managing and the prospect of potentially crippling tariifs and border delays.
“Much of defence collaboration is done through third-party organisations, whether it is NATO, whether it be through the United Nations, whether it be joint expeditionary force and actually as I already touched upon most of our defence industrial collaboration is not done through the European Union,” he told the House in response.
An additional question raised the potential consequences for secure navigation capabilities as a result of losing participation in the European GALILEO satellite system, querying the sense in funding a “delayed, diplomatically divisive and frankly sketchy system” – a reference to the decision announced last August to fund an 18-month study examining the UK’s ability to develop and launch a homegrown global satellite positioning system.
“£92 million has been allocated from the Treasury EU exit fund to the engineering, development and design phase of a UK global navigation satellite system which is currently underway [….] The UK Space Agency is leading the work with the full support of the Ministry of Defence,” responded Defence Minister Stuart Andrew.
Robust arguments? Perhaps. The problem, however, in the view of many – a view shared by MONCh – is that the glacial pace of progress and the extended gestation period of most defence-related programmes means it will be years before any meaningful capability can be generated solely by the increasingly beleaguered island of Albion. And what does it do in the interim? The Devil is in the details, they say. Surely, Old Nick must be laughing all the way to the tariff office at the way details are being utterly ignored in the Brexit process.