Nick Harvey MP writes… We mustn’t let eurosceptics spoil useful defence co-operation with our EU partners

Today in London the UK’s foreign and defence secretaries, Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon, will meet their French counterparts, Laurent Fabius and Jean-Yves Le Drian. Of course, there is nothing particularly out of the ordinary about this meeting: in reality, UK and French Ministers meet frequently at various EU and NATO summits.

But rather than talking up the benefits of our close and productive working relationship with the French in the spheres of defence and security, the Tories are reluctant to admit that such cooperation is actually going on. These close ties – reinforced by the Anglo-French Lancaster House Treaty, a programme for defence cooperation signed by the PM and President back in 2010 – aren’t a natural fit with the Conservatives’ increasingly anti-European rhetoric.

There is a big gap between what this Government is doing to develop and foster our partnerships with France, and what our Tory friends are prepared to admit. As a result we risk being terrified into a state of inertia by growing euroscepticism, rather than embracing and building upon the huge bilateral progress we have already made with the French.

Mutual collaboration is at the heart of agreements under the Lancaster House Treaty and in practical terms it has already made a huge impact, ushering in a new era of unprecedented bilateral cooperation with the country. Most recently, at the end of last year, we saw the signing of a joint contract for support of the A400M Atlas Fleet – a result of successful British-French discussions over a number of years. Britain and France took the political lead to resolve the Libya crisis in 2011, and our two countries have successfully undertaken other joint exercises since – as well as the UK contributing transport assistance to France’s operations in Mali.

Contrary to the idea that we reserve nuclear cooperation for our relationship with the US, we are already undertaking significant work with the French on resource and information sharing and radiographic and hydrodynamic research as part of the UK-French Project Teutates (another facet of the Lancaster House Treaty). Between jointly-run centres at Valduc in France and the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, the UK has already invested £48.7million in the project to date. Ongoing and deepening cooperation is the reality, rather than some abstract relationship the Tories would have us believe we could opt out of at any given moment.

Leaders have spoken of the ‘deep emotional commitment’ that underpins our security relationship with the USA. The Conservatives’ view of our relationship with Europe could not be more different: Chief Whip Michael Gove recently said on LBC radio that he viewed Britain’s membership of the EU as a ‘business transaction’ rather than an ‘emotional tie’.

This stubborn rhetoric on Europe neglects our well-established ties with countries like France, and the fact that these relationships are becoming more important than ever: European defence budgets are facing a context of long-term fiscal austerity, on top of security challenges unprecedented since the fall of the Soviet Union, including the resurgence of Russia and instability in the Middle East and Africa. The US’s pivot towards Asia has implications for Europe’s role within NATO and the development of greater European military autonomy from the US. So in this context, there is a clear need for Britain and our European neighbours, particularly France, to consider how we can enhance our efficiency in defence spending and other areas.

In a globalised world of ever-evolving threats, Britain cannot and should not be terrified into inaction by eurosceptics, blinded by ideology against the national interest. Now is the time to accept that our defence relationships with France and other European countries are already well-entrenched – and to detach and isolate ourselves would be to the detriment of this country and our future defence and security interests.



* Sir Nick Harvey was the Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon from 1992 until 2015 and Minister of State for the Armed Forces from 2010 to 2012

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Eddie Sammon 12th Feb '15 - 2:25pm

    I totally agree Nick and we should co-operate with other EU countries more on defence. Due to free movement people increasingly have loyalties with more than one EU country and forcing people to choose one is a bit problematic.

  • It would seem the right royal tonking you were given by the electorate last year on matters EU can be safely ignored if it suits your agenda to do so.

    What price democracy, of no value in LibDem land seemingly!

  • Stephen Bolter 16th Feb '15 - 3:54pm

    We received a “right royal tonking ” because we had a weak, ill conceived, message which failed to say what our Euro Candidates would do if elected and why this would be of value to their electorates.
    Most importantly it failed to say that those who were not content with the EU as it is should vote for the Liberal Democrats who were already committed to improving it.
    Instead the message was let us have a pre-run of an in out referendum for an unchanged EU, with a tedious discussion about exactly how many jobs would be lost if we were to leave.

  • @Raddiy – Whether you are in favour of the EU or not, the security of Britain has been tied to that of Europe since the days of the Roman Empire.

    I suggest you read Brendan Simms excellent book “Three Victories and a Defeat” which describes the creation of the first British empire, and it’s subsequent loss – largely due to failure to maintain and nurture European alliances.

  • @jedibeeftrix – the basic problem is that the UK has been trying for decades to play the role of a “great power”, without being prepared to / capable of spending the money required to have armed forces to back this up.

    Fundamentally as a nation we need to decide what we want our role in the world to be, prioritise spending appropriately, and cooperate with our partners where it makes sense.

  • David Pollard 17th Feb '15 - 6:09pm

    The UK is a by-stander in the Euro talks and in the peace negotiations in the Ukraine. The stupid attitude of the Tories to Europe means that we are becoming of less and less importance in world affairs. Could be a good thing as it will save us money.

  • Steve Coltman 20th Feb '15 - 10:12am

    What Nick did not make clear is that the Lancaster House Treaty was not driven by a desire for mutual cooperation but driven by weakness. Both British and French conventional forces have been repeatedly cut since the 1990s, the top French service chiefs have even threatened Pres. Hollande that they will resign if there are any more cuts. Neither Britain nor France can operate autonomously any more, not as of 2010 anyway. Moreover, the Lancaster House agreement is bilateral, it does not involve Brussels.

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