Author: sussexadmin

The Tale of the Leader’s New Clothes

The Tale of the Leader’s New Clothes

Once upon a time there was an MP named Theresa Fey. She lived in a rather nice house in one of the better parts of the country, well away from JAMS, otherwise known as poor people. One day while at work she was suddenly informed that a few people had decided that she was to be the Leader, not just of her party, but of the whole country. This sudden rise to power came as something of a surprise to her, for although she had coveted this role for nearly two decades, she knew deep down that she had never been particularly good at her job. For one thing, in her previous role she had been instructed to protect the country’s borders and prevent many strangers from foreign lands from coming to work hard and pay taxes in the country. However, she had failed to do this, and over the years some people had indeed travelled to the country from other lands, liked it and had chosen to stay. While many citizens of the land were happy to see new people arrive from other lands, and welcomed them and their cultural diversity with open arms, others were smaller-minded and wanted nothing more than to see the borders closed. Theresa had failed in this, her biggest task, yet now she was being rewarded with the most important job of all. It was all a little strange and overwhelming, but this was an opportunity too good to miss. So rather than admit to her past failings and her fear of not being good enough, the newly chosen Leader decided instead to get on with the job of running the country.

The one condition of her rise to power was that she must wear a new suit of clothes, known as the Brexsuit. Many of the citizens of the land had voted for her to wear this, although others were completely against it. Like everyone else in the land, Theresa didn’t know exactly what the Brexsuit looked like, but there were those who said it would ensure that the country had a fine future, and it would mean the citizens could take back control. Theresa thought this sounded like a good thing – she was quite a fan of control garments as they made her look in better shape than she really was.

Besides, her advisors were adamant that since a little over half of the people had chosen it, it must be worn. When Theresa took on the trappings of the Brexsuit, she knew immediately that it was a mistake – and she knew a thing or two about fashion faux pas. Indeed, she wondered if anyone could possibly look good in it. It had a certain glossy sheen about it, and yet it seemed so lacking in substance, almost as if people might see right through it. Worse still, it was a very poor fit and felt awfully uncomfortable. In fact, it was quite the opposite of the designs she’d chosen before she came to power. When she mentioned to her advisors that the Brexsuit seemed a little see-through, they replied that only very stupid people would be unable to see the charms of the new outfit. It was difficult for Theresa to find a suitable response to this assertion. Did it mean she herself was stupid?

Theresa didn’t entirely trust the purveyors of the Brexsuit either, there was something slightly shifty and suspect about Fagojo Ltd, and it sounded a bit foreign. Nevertheless, after so many years of yearning to have the job of Leader, the prospect of power was simply too tempting for Theresa. She wasn’t prepared to let such an opportunity slip through her fingers over the small matter of some slightly diaphanous attire. So she reluctantly set aside her beloved Vivienne Westwood, and put on the new suit.

One thing was clear, it was controversial. Some people were infatuated with it, others hated it.  There were those in the land who had never warmed to Theresa’s old style of dressing, finding her footwear, in particular, slightly distasteful, but the sight of the new Brexsuit was even more unpalatable. As months went by, more and more people started to question it. Many people were brave enough to admit that it was not all it was cracked up to be. Some became vocal and questioned why she was wearing it. Although Theresa herself heartily disliked it, she felt obliged to defend it since she had chosen to wear it in exchange for power. This was not likely to be an easy task, since it really was indefensible. However, she soon discovered that many people were satisfied with simple, meaningless phrases, such as “Brexsuit means Brexsuit” – as long as she repeated them often enough.

Some citizens were desperate to believe in it, because they had asked for it in the first place, so they continued to delude themselves that it really was a magnificent outfit. Theresa was also lucky enough to have the support of media man Paul Faker, who was happy to add to his fortune by selling papers convincing people that the Brexsuit was the best thing for the country, and that anyone who said otherwise must be a traitor.

Confused and troubled, more discerning people started to want more information about it.  What did it consist of? Was it hard or soft? But curiously Theresa wasn’t quite sure – deep down she felt it ought to be soft, and yet the people closest to her said it must be a hard Brexsuit. The worst thing was, she was increasingly convinced that the whole thing was so lightweight it really had no substance whatsoever. Fearing that other people might be able to see through it too, she decided to announce that it was a red, white and blue Brexsuit. Some people were surprised and disappointed to hear this. They believed that it should be pure white, as this was the only colour they felt was fitting for their country.

When Theresa travelled to meet the leaders of other lands, they were rather bewildered to see her, for they too saw straight through the Brexsuit. They did their best to persuade her to cover herself and adopt some suitable attire. But she would not hear of it. By now, Theresa had become rather attached to it and was unwilling to give it up. She believed that the other leaders were simply envious of her.

Meanwhile, more and more people felt embarrassed by their leader and her outfit. The anti-Brexsuiters decided to take action. They would no longer let their country become the butt of the world’s jokes. The leaders of the other parties joined together and demanded a new vote, now that people had seen it. This gave people the chance to stop pretending that the Brexsuit was a good idea. People were relieved to be able to admit at last that they too, could see right through it. So it came to pass that an overwhelming majority voted to get rid of the Brexsuit. When the result was declared, the people cheered. Their days of shame were over. Honour and decency were restored to the land. Theresa was mortified. She tried to contact Fagojo Ltd, but they were nowhere to be found. Horrified to realise that she had had the wool pulled over her eyes, Theresa fled the country and neither she nor the Brexsuit was ever seen again.

Can we “just walk away” from the EU?

Can we “just walk away” from the EU?

TLDR:  No!  It’s tempting to say you can, but, it would be a disaster.  The reality is it isn’t even possible to “just walk away”

During last year’s referendum the various leave campaigns were united in one big idea – that we could leave the EU but pick and choose and keep the bits we liked, whilst ditching whatever we didn’t approve of.  It’s perhaps worth saying no one seemed to agree on what it was they liked and disliked, but the big lie at the heart of leave was that we could do a deal (or perhaps dictate a deal) better than that which we currently enjoyed.

I never understood how this was supposed to come to pass.  I was told over and over growing up that the EU was a terrible wicked organisation, which not only had the intent to bully poor little England, but had the ability too.  This was nonsense of course.  The EU is a far from perfect organisation and the UK government and population can reasonably find themselves in opposition to many ideas fermenting in Brussels, but the EU aren’t bullies and even if they were the UK as one of the three most powerful countries within the Union could easily quash anything we really disliked.

This idea was pushed hard by the various leave campaigns.  There were references to the EUSSR and Fourth Reich, but there was also another claim.  It was asserted over and over again that a UK which opted out of the EU would be able to dictate the terms under which it left.

So we could still have free trade, but could opt out the free movement of people (but at the same time we could have the ones we wanted and our retired OAPs living in France and Spain definitely wouldn’t need to come back).

Now clearly there are some problems with these assertions.  Apart from the fact that’s just not how the EU works (The free movement of labour, money, goods and services is a bundle.  You can take the lot or leave the lot, but not select the bits you like.) and giving the UK a better deal than it presently holds is not really in the interest of the rest of the EU and certainly not in the interests of shadowy unelected bureaucrats working behind the scenes to create a Federal States of Europe.  Giving a better deal to the UK would obviously encourage every other member to take a punt at getting a better deal and almost inevitably destroy the Union itself.

These points seem rather straightforward to me, but perhaps that’s just the result of one thing must be glaringly obvious to everyone.  If we got bullied when we had a seat at the table, then how could we possibly not be bullied when we gave up that seat?   It makes no sense to imagine Poor Little England would be cruelly abused for years, would sacrifice some of its power and then suddenly find itself pushing around the rest of Europe.  It just seems to be an unspoken assumption that the rules written and unwritten of international relations and human nature would just evaporate upon the triggering of Article 50.

As has become clear none of this was remotely realistic.  The EU isn’t even going to contemplate abandoning its fundamental principles to make life easy for the British negotiators.

In the aftermath of the referendum the terms “Soft Brexit” and “Hard Brexit” became common place.  Perhaps they were used during the referendum, but they certainly weren’t used widely.  Soft Brexit came to mean leaving the EU but remaining in the Single Market (and the Customs Union which most of us discovered for the first time was different to the Single Market).  Hard Brexit came to mean leaving the EU and the single market.  Throughout the campaign Remain supporters had repeatedly pointed out that halting or substantially reducing immigration from EU member states would mean leaving the Single Market.  This was dismissed by leavers as Project Fear.

After the referendum it became increasingly clear that we were going to have to accept either “Soft” or “Hard” Brexit.  It’s incredibly important to remember that we were explicitly told over and over again during the referendum by leave campaigners that “Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the Single Market”  (Dan Hannan of Vote Leave).  Nigel Farrage suggested we should have a deal like Norway or Switzerland.  in fact he was touting this as late as February of this year.  In one interview he suggested that Norway were “opted out of all the things that really make the British mad”.  Norway is, of course, in the Single Market.  Switzerland’s relationship is more complex but it accepts most of the benefits of membership and most of the commitments.  Dan Hannan publicly touted a Norwegian style settlement.  Luke Johnson of Vote leave concurred talking of our “great independent future just as countries like Norway and Switzerland enjoy”.  Owen Paterson of Vote leave said “only a madman would actually leave the market”.  Matthew Elliot of Vote Leave said the Norwegian option would be attractive to business people.  On 30 Dec 2015 Arron Banks tweeted “Increasingly the Norway option looks the best for the UK”.

It’s not clear why Theresa May made the authority of the ECJ a “red line”.  One of the most convincing explanations is she just didn’t understand the ECJ and ECHR (which she came to hate during her time as Home Secretary) were different entities.  The ECJ wasn’t much mentioned in the referendum campaign, but perhaps she somehow came to the conclusion that a court that primarily existed to arbitrate trade related disputes between member states was incompatible with leaving the EU.  But Single Market membership requires accepting ECJ authority.  Whatever her rationale Theresa May decided that we were opting for a Hard Brexit regardless of anything promised during the referendum.

“Hard Brexit” has somehow become the default position for leavers.  How? Why?  That’s a very long discussion we don’t have room for here.  The 1984 style retconning of the campaign promises is disturbing though.

However, “Hard Brexit” still represents a range of possibilities.  Would the UK continue with intelligence cooperation?  What happens to UK citizens living in the EU and to EU citizens in the UK?  A complete break means those people have to go back to their country of origin. And then there’s the matter of the “divorce settlement”.

It is now very clear that part of the cost of leaving the EU will include a bill for around £50 billion to be paid over a number of years.  This has infuriated a lot of leavers.  There is an insistence this is blackmail and that we are being exploited and that this isn’t what we voted for.  Call to “just walk away” have grown.  Many say the “divorce bill” isn’t worth paying and so leaving the EU with no deal is better than what they see as a bad deal.

It’s not a divorce settlement.  That’s useful short hand, but it’s not accurate.  The EU said last year that the UK would be held to those outstanding commitments to which they had already signed up.  How fair the sum was is open to debate.  The existence of a bill is not.  Theresa May has acknowledged its existence.  Once that was publicly acknowledge the prospect of telling the EU to “whistle for it” as Boris Johnson suggested was no longer viable (if it ever was).

When in the EU, disputes between member states can be settled by the ECJ.  There’s room within a regional organisation for binding arbitration, but in the world outside those bodies nothing really fulfils that function.  It’s the Wild West.  In that international anarchy countries prosper or fail based upon their strength and reputation.  As part of the EU the UK benefited from collective bargaining so it certainly won’t be stronger for leaving, but it is still a large economy so it does make sense to it retains some appeal.  What’s more worrying is how our reputation is impacted by Brexit.  We’re already suffering damage to our image as a result of this vote, but that is as nothing to the damage we would suffer for not honouring our commitments.  The number one rule of international relations is that states honour their treaty obligations.  Without an empowered court of arbitration governments have to decide whether they trust the country in question to honour their agreements.  If we now “just walk away” from the EU and our debt then we are telling the world that we do not behave in good faith and who would trust us then?  Would anyone trust us enough to broker a good trade deal?

Some insist that we would do just fine under WTO rules.  We can crash out of the EU and just revert to WTO rules and work out some better deals over time.  WTO rules aren’t good.  In fact they are terrible for international trade.  Tariffs and quotas would be imposed and our goods and services would become very unattractive as a result.  But we aren’t even especially likely to get WTO rules.  Currently the UK trades with those countries it has no trade deal with under WTO rules, but it has membership of the WTO through the EU.  We don’t automatically become a WTO member if we leave the EU.  In truth of course there hasn’t been a comparable situation so if it happens everyone will be feeling their way, but that doesn’t alter the fact there is quite simply no reason to believe we would automatically join.  In reality we would have to be accepted by the rest of the membership.  Any member could initiate a trade dispute and hold up or deny our membership.  Can anyone think of any countries which might have a grievance against us?  If Argentina didn’t spring to mind then Spain probably did, but depending upon how we crashed out we would probably be adding Ireland and the EU to that list.

So “just walking away” would lead to a disastrous set of circumstances.  And we haven’t even mentioned the number of companies and industries who have been quite clear that they will leave the UK if we don’t not have free trade with the EU.

Some leavers assure us it would still be worth it.  I am not sure what they base that view upon, but some people still claim it to be the case.  Arron Banks seems to feel any kind of deal is unacceptable.  Today (08 Dec 2017) he released a statement via the Leave.EU Facebook page that “We may as well just bend over and allow the European Union to have its way with us for years to come.”  He was saying this of “Full regulatory alignment with the Internal Market and Customs Union” which as we have noted was exactly what he was calling in December 2015.  People are entitled to change their mind of course, but this seems like quite a significant U-turn.  There’s fury amongst leavers, but they cannot possibly imagine there was going to be a better deal.

So if this is so unacceptable perhaps we should “just walk”.  Can we?

Well no!  Let us look a handful of examples:

  1. Fisheries. Fisheries are a hot topic for leavers.  People don’t like quotas, they think we’re getting an unfair deal and they get like the idea of foreign fishermen fishing UK waters.  There are understandable grounds for grievances.  One cannot help but feel that had our representative on the EU’s fisheries committee actually turned up for meetings perhaps those grievances would have been addressed years ago, but that’s a different issue.  Why do we have quotas?  Once upon a time fishing was hit and miss and sometimes fishermen got a good catch and sometimes they didn’t, but as technology improved and boats were capable of carrying larger and larger nets they developed the ability to catch larger and larger hauls.  By the sixties or seventies there was a very real danger that some fish stocks would be wiped out by over-fishing.  So quotas were introduced in order to ensure that fishing was sustainable.  Without quotas the seas would rapidly become over-fished and stocks wiped out and with it the fishing industry.  So no matter how painful quotas are, they are better than the alternative.  But surely then the UK could walk away and impose its own quotas.  Our three biggest fish exports are scallop, scampi and crab.  We could in principle manage these stocks ourselves without any other country’s input, but that’s because these shellfish don’t travel a lot.  Fish don’t recognise international boundaries, but that doesn’t matter with a crab because he doesn’t go very far out to sea anyway.  Haddock, cod, shark, eel, herring, sardine, huss etc.. all move around.  They aren’t our fish.  They pass through German, Dutch and other waters (depending on the fish) so how we manage the stocks and fish them sustainably is an international issue.  But what about fishing in UK waters?  Well we fish in other countries’ waters and other countries’ fleets fish in ours.  I don’t understand how that deal came to be, but that is the deal that evolved over many years and whatever happens next we need a deal.  So we cannot just walk away and expect to still have a fishing industry in five years’ time.  There has to be an international deal and the best possible deal probably looks a lot like the one we have now.
  1. Open Skies. Open skies is not but rather a series of agreements allowing different nations airlines to fly between and over different countries.  Some of the open skies agreements we have we have as part of the EU.  In the event of leaving the EU in an orderly manner it should be very simply to confirm that the UK inherits these agreements.  But if we “just walk” that deal doesn’t exist.  Like our trade deals or WTO membership if we just walk, we walk away from the existing deal.  So if we “just walk” then we’ll be walking a lot, because we won’t be flying anywhere.
  1. Retired senior citizens living in Spain and France. The UK is unusual in Europe in that many of our elderly citizens choose to retire overseas.  This is not something that other European cultures do.  The UK diaspora in Europe is numbered in the millions.  They are living there, because they are using the freedom of movement of EU citizenship.  So what happens if we “just walk”?  Other EU countries may be quite keen to attract educated and economically productive young people, but what do old people represent?  A strain on local clinics and healthcare?  Cast your mind back to the referendum and what was said about immigrants in the UK?  So what happens if we “just walk”?  Those OAPs come back to the UK.
  1. The Gibraltar Border. We have a land border with Spain.  The Spanish government thinks Gibraltar should be part of Spain.  Every so often in the past they have closed the border to pile on pressure.  Their EU membership has forced them to behave.  If we “just walk away” it is almost guaranteed that they close the border.  Okay well that’s not ideal, but the people of Gibraltar will carry on.  They made it through World War Two and anyway if the Spanish want to take Gibraltar then they’ll need to go through the Gibraltar Regiment.  Right?  Well quite a lot of people who work in Gibraltar (including a lot of the Gibraltar Regiment) live on the Spanish side of the border.  So what happens if we “just walk”?  Well it is physically impossible to “just walk” from a border.  We have a border and we’re going to have to figure out how that border is operated.
  1. The Irish Border. Again we have a border, but this manages to be even more sensitive than that with Spain.  The border has been sort of open since Ireland gained its independence.  The border follows roads in places, rivers in others and divides towns and farms.  That’s not going to change.  If the UK wants to leave the Customs Union then it has to impose a hard border.  There have to be customs posts, but that’s not practical.  As one ex-soldier pointed out, ringing in to today’s Andrew Marr show, the British Army doesn’t have enough personnel to seal that border.  And freedom of movement across the border is critical to the ongoing peace process.  The UK government have considered an invisible electronic border in the Irish Sea – whatever that means.  But how is northern Ireland supposed to function under EU customs rules when the rest of the UK isn’t?  Does that just suddenly make Belfast the most attractive place in the UK to position a business?  Or the worst?  Whatever the case the DUP have the controlling block in Parliament and have said no.  Whatever you think the solution is, just walking away isn’t it.  We don’t have the ability to impose a hard border even if we wanted to.

6,7,8 etc..   There are literally thousands of issues where we currently work with the EU to find an international solution.  If one looked hard enough one could probably find an agreement we currently have with the EU which is unnecessary or silly, but I cannot think of any.  Even rulings on the classification of cucumbers based on their straightness are there for a reason and that classification needs to be international or else it’s useless.  We have a deal, because a deal was necessary.  “Just walking away” means crashing out of that deal and thus damaging our international image, but the need for an agreement doesn’t just go away.

So what next?

The border with the Republic of Ireland is the sticking point, which is forcing Theresa May to reconsider the whole Brexit process.  How does she address that?  A lot of the cheerleaders of leave are very unhappy, but what were her options.

  1. Leave Northern Ireland (but only Northern Ireland) inside the Customs Union. The DUP have already vetoed this.

x Not an option

  1. Impose a hard border with the Republic. Impossible to police, gets in the way of the peace process and is hugely unpopular on both sides of the border.

x Not an option

  1. “Just walk”. Well it requires impose a hard border with the Republic and Gibraltar and is not credible for a host of other reason.

x Not an option

  1. Leave the EU, but remain in the Customs Union and Single Market. Despite being what they campaigned for this option will not be popular with the arch-quitters, but it is a workable solution.  The issue is it means accepting EU rules and regulations without having a say in them.

Ö  Workable solution.

  1. Exit from Brexit. will be unpopular with leave voters (though almost certainly not as unpopular as no deal would end up being) but it is workable. But why choose the halfway-house Norway model when you could just stay in.

 Ö  Workable solution.

European Army – some facts and context

European Army – some facts and context

I originally wrote this article (paper seems to grand) during the referendum campaign.  At the time I was a serving officer in the British Army and as such was forbidden from engaging in party politics.  But that didn’t mean I couldn’t comment on points of fact.  The threat of an EU Army was a frequent motif during the referendum campaign and frankly it was just not really based on anything.  There was a mixture of glaring errors, lies and people who didn’t seem to understand what any of the words they were using actually meant.

Asides from 17 years regular service as an infantry officer, my bachelors degree is War Studies and my masters is Philosophy with the main focus on political philosophy. During my time I have served with a NATO HQ and with the Dutch Army and at the time I wrote the original draft of this I was stationed in Germany. I say this simply to establish my credentials.  Whether I constitute one of the much maligned “experts” or not I know this subject from academic study and living of the reality.

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: THERE IS NO EU ARMY, THERE IS NO PLAN FOR AN EU ARMY AND THERE IS NO MEANINGFUL DESIRE OR SUPPORT FOR AN EU ARMY  (If you need to you can read the rest)

The EU (even before it was called the EU) was always supposed to bind Europe together to prevent another world war.  An effective way of doing that is to take control of the means of waging war, but that would end countries’ sovereignty.  So support for a single army or defence force is practically non-existent. Binding countries’ militaries into close cooperation was potentially as effective – if only to bring soldiers and officers together working closely and building friendships and trust.

Whatever high idealism may have been in evidence at the foundation of the EU, the reality is  Europe’s defences were shaped by the Cold War.  Defence was focussed almost entirely on fighting the Warsaw Pact (and the prospects weren’t good).  Every Western European country (statelets like the Vatican City excepted) was either in NATO or had some close relationship to it.  NATO fulfilled the role of binding Europe and its militaries together. To counter the threat most European countries had large standing armies with lots of tanks manned through conscription.

In the 1990s the world radically changed. The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union was breaking up, George W Bush proclaimed a new world order (not the one with the lizards) and there was increasing East West cooperation over various trouble spots from Iraq to Bosnia.

Armed Forces around Europe restructured as did the US. The end of the Cold War coincided with what was known as the Revolution in Military Affairs (greater surveillance, battlefield communications and smart bombs dropped by stealth aircraft). Big armour-heavy standing armies were expensive, weren’t needed to resist the Russians, weren’t the right structure for overseas interventions (and there were issues about conscripts who crewed them dying in anything other than a war of national defence) and the new technologies appeared to render the old way of doing things defunct.

All Western armed forces and all the former Warsaw Pact Armed Forces restructured and (quite rightly) they began to consider a range of ideas, which would previously have been considered unthinkable. It should be noted – considering a wide range of options is not the same as endorsing any one of those options.

One big issue at the time was whether the US would stay in Europe. Western Europe’s integrity was assured by US troops, ships, planes and nuclear weapons. Successive US administrations have raised their concerns over the failure of various European states to stump up the 2% of GDP required for defence spending. If the US were to pull out (and in the nineties this was seriously discussed) and a nationalist government elected in Russia (and this was a serious concern at the time) or an element of the Russian Army mutinied and headed West then Europe would need a defence structure capable of dealing with that situation.

Another issue which was causing a rethink on military structure was the increasing cost of individual units. Hi-tech weaponry is very expensive. Airframes are expensive. Training is expensive and the infrastructure and logistics and support to back these up costs money. If you want a single paratrooper, you need a parachute school, a training plane and then a plane to jump out of with ground crew and maintenance and an airfield. If you him to jump on his own you need a plane. If you want a battalion you need x number of planes. Two battalions two x planes. And you may only use those planes (specifically configured for parachuting) once during an operation. As armies shrunk these support costs made up a bigger and bigger element of the overall costs of the armed forces.  They became a bigger burden to deliver less capability.  Governments across Europe quite reasonably started talking about sharing things like transport aircraft.

Of course with all that change people discussed a new European defence identity and the French and Germans decided to form a Franco-German Corps (a Corps is typically about 100,000 men, but can be more).

It didn’t happen.

Firstly, whilst the EU might actually be better off in the long term with its own defence structure (and it might), in the short term (and we’re talking at least a decade and probably more like two) sabotaging the link with the world’s only super-power is pretty daft.

Secondly, it was likely to be unable to respond to many of the threats European countries are concerned by.  For good or for ill, most of the Western European countries were colonial powers. Would shared military capabilities (not even an Army) be suited to responding to a crisis in Mali, to an Argentine threat to the Falklands or a Venezuelan threat to Curacao? Quite possibly not! That was enough of a red line for several countries to scupper any real plans for an EU Army.

Thirdly, an EU Army would certainly end countries’ ability to exercise an independent foreign policy and thus end their sovereignty. The number of people in Europe who support an end to national sovereignty is tiny.

Fourthly, an aspiration is one thing, but there never was any coherent plan.  Militaries rarely move without a plan and from historical experience when they do, they usually get wiped out.

Fifthly, NATO works.  And if it ain’t broke then why try to fix it? There was talk in the early nineties of NATO having done its job and thus the time to retire it being here.  It became clear fairly quickly NATO would survive, as its role broadened to wider security (particularly with peace-keeping/enforcement in the Balkans, but later also in Afghanistan).  NATO did not become obsolete as many had predicted.

By 2002 when the UK opted to go with the US into Iraq and France refused it was pretty clear a European Defence structure and common policy was not on the cards. Very few people really wanted it and it wasn’t practical anyway.

What was left of that? Well the Eurocorps exists as a NATO HQ based in Lille. The EU has Battlegroups. (A battlegroup is a battalion [roughly 500-600 men] with attachments like engineers). These are not EU troops. On a rotation countries provide them for EU missions.  And they aren’t configured to fight a war.  They are designed for peace-keeping and humanitarian missions. At sea there is a similar arrangement with an EU task force combating piracy.  EU countries do share resources either with bilateral agreements or as part of NATO. (So at least some of the planes that were used to get the French to Mali were British)

Essentially, the resurrection of interest in a European Army which came about in the nineties pretty much died in the nineties.  The ambition was pared right back to an ability to do the easy stuff everyone agrees on – humanitarian ops, counter-piracy and a bit of peace-keeping, but only really in the most permissive of environments.

It would be silly to pretend there aren’t still people in and around the EU Parliament who would be fond of the idea of an EU Army, but all the objections still stand. If you want to debate this, it is worth reading the relevant section of the Naples Treaty. What it says is that when all member states agree then they will move forward with planning. That is pretty much saying “when hell freezes over then we’ll start looking at the problem in detail”.

In the run up to the referendum there was a lot of chatter about this. Most of it comes from anti-European politicians and activists making shit up to serve their political agenda.  And I cannot in good conscience pretend there is any more to the scare stories in the tabloids or blatantly disingenuous videos circulating online. It is unfortunate that the UK was providing an EU Battlegroup in referendum year and that the press for the most part had no idea what a battlegroup was. One report even said it had two UK divisions under it. (A division consists of 3-5 brigades and brigades consist of 3-5 battlegroups)

There is also the Trump factor. Of course, when the US elected a President who refused to confirm he would meet his NATO commitments, people started looking at other options. They would have to be ludicrously inept not to.  But it is worth noting Trump is echoing a sentiment a lot of Americans share – Europe needs to do more to cover its own defence.

The few shrill voices that want a European Army will inevitably be more widely heard right now; there hasn’t been such an imperative to plan for a defence of Europe without the US since at least the nineties and the UK’s withdrawal emboldens the proponents of greater integration.  Any EU member can block further integration and the one country everyone knew for a fact would do so was the UK. (We were never going to be forced into this). Actually, France for certain will veto it too and it would be shocking it they were the only ones to do so.

Where does that leave us? Well there is no plan for an EU Army, greater European cooperation will take place within NATO (undoubtedly with an eye to how it does so if NATO ends) and this is all a bit of a non-argument.

I’d leave you with four thoughts:

1) Would a European Army be so bad? (I think it would actually, but there are certainly arguments for it and it’s worth understanding what they are rather than just aggressively rattling the Telegraph at the mere mention of it)

2) This is not going to happen anytime soon. If it does it will be because the world has changed.  If that world looks very different from this one then the logic may be very different.

3) It will be that generation’s decision whether to join in those specific circumstances we cannot know – not our’s.

4) People who talk about this a lot never, mention a European Airforce or Navy do they? It’s almost as if they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.

(Oh and if you’re in any doubt as to point 4, the photo accompanying this article originally comes from PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images, but I found it on Breitbart.  The breitbart article from May last year claimed to have exposed German plans for an EU Army.  Those aren’t German soldiers.)