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Labour’s EU defence pact threatens Britain’s sovereignty, warns Shapps

Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, says Labour's plans would give Brussels control over key military decisions - Justin Tallis/AFP

Labour’s plan to strike a security pact with the European Union will threaten British sovereignty, Grant Shapps has warned.

The Defence Secretary claimed the proposal would hand control over key defence decisions to Brussels and sow division within Nato, at a time when the EU is seeking to set up separate military structures to the transatlantic alliance.

Mr Shapps said: “To secure a future where Britain stands tall and resilient, we must maintain control over our own military decisions, a cornerstone of which is our steadfast support for Nato.

“It is this sovereign capability which has allowed us to be at the forefront of responding to the war in Ukraine.

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“It is clear the Labour Party’s future defence policy will lead to a divided Nato.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow defence secretary John Healey at the Fusilier Museum in Bury, Greater Manchester
Shadow defence secretary John Healey (left) with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer - Stefan Rousseau/PA

He was responding to a new report by the Legatum Institute, a think tank, published on Monday. It warns that Sir Keir Starmer’s plan to strike an EU security pact risks tightly binding Britain’s defence industry into rules created by Brussels, effectively “subordinating UK defence policy”.

The report says: “Advocating for a formalised UK-EU defence relationship seems inimical to the UK national interest if it entails assisting the emergence of a distinct EU defence union.

“It may also undermine the UK’s ability to act independently.

“Labour risks compromising the advantages the UK currently enjoys as an independent power able to balance its interests through its relations with key allies, by subordinating the UK to EU-led defence initiatives.”

It adds that “the EU’s desire to play both a role in developing capabilities and operational command structures poses a growing challenge to Nato”.

EU security pact is key priority for Labour

Both David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, and John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, have said that forging closer defence ties with Europe will be a key priority for a Labour government, primarily through a new “UK-EU security pact”.

They have not yet set out any detail of what the pact will entail.

There is speculation that it could involve signing up to a range of EU defence cooperation and procurement schemes that are designed to give Europe more “strategic autonomy”, triggering concerns that they will drive a wedge between EU countries and Nato.

Legatum suggested that Labour may explore joining the European Defence Agency (EDA), the European Defence Fund (EDF), the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (Card) process and the Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco) mechanism, as well as participating in EU battle groups.

On Sunday night, Labour insisted closer cooperation with Europe was “vital” following Russia’s attack on Ukraine and pointed out that under the Conservatives the UK was already in the process of trying to join part of Pesco related to the cross-border movement of troops.

‘Our commitment to Nato is unshakeable’

A Labour spokesman said: “As our manifesto clearly stated, Nato will be the cornerstone of our security with a Labour government.

“Our commitment to Nato is unshakeable and Labour’s defence strategy will be Nato first. That’s why we will apply a Nato test to major defence programmes to ensure we meet our obligations in full.

“The Legatum analysis is wrong. Britain has left the European Union and there is no question of binding the UK’s defence into the EU.

“Putin’s war in Ukraine is a profound threat to wider European security and his aggression has made closer cooperation with our European allies vital to our national security.

“That’s why we have suggested an EU-UK Security Pact and new bilateral agreements to reinforce Nato.”