At this year’s Fabian New Year Conference, I highlighted that over the past few weeks our allies and international partners have understandably taken a close interest in our domestic discussions on Brexit. They have witnessed a government without a credible plan for the most crucial issue of the day, an historic parliamentary defeat, and a prime minister who doggedly refuses to listen to any viewpoint other than her own.
It is Theresa May’s intransigence and failure to see the writing on the wall which means that a no-deal outcome is still on the table. This would be hugely damaging to the UK for a whole host of reasons, and it would be catastrophic for our defence and security interests.
Yet the government seems to be seriously considering this outcome, even issuing a call-up order earlier this month to put reservists on standby in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Of course, our armed forces personnel regularly step up and provide invaluable support when this country faces domestic challenges such as severe flooding or snowfall, but make no mistake, no-deal would be a crisis of this government’s own making. It beggars belief that the government is willing to waste our reservists’ time and resources in this way.
If we leave without a deal, we will also have to pull out of all EU missions. Our personnel who have used their specialist skills to combat piracy off Somalia or to help refugees in the Mediterranean would all have to be withdrawn. Not only would this leave the UK and Europe less secure, it would also undermine the vital security cooperation that we have with our European allies.
No-deal would cut us out of opportunities for defence collaboration and joint research through the European Defence Agency and Defence Fund, and it could undermine our own UK defence industry. Many of our defence suppliers rely on complex, pan-European supply chains. Any tariffs or barriers to trade could have a severe impact on defence manufacturers and our country’s sovereign capability.
For these reasons, it is all the more worrying that the defence secretary – presumably with his eye on the Tory leadership – is so cavalier about no-deal and is seemingly indifferent to the debilitating effect that it could have.
As we leave the European Union, it is important that the UK restates its commitment to multilateralism, international institutions and the rules-based system. Our allies and partners need the reassurance that Brexit is not an opportunity for this country to turn inwards and to shirk our international obligations. The chaos of the past few weeks has only underlined the importance of providing this reassurance to them.
Labour is unequivocally committed to internationalism and to working collectively to solve the many security challenges that we face. Our leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has long championed this approach.
We are committed to the NATO alliance and to the guarantee of collective defence that underpins it. Working with our NATO allies is also key to responding to new and emerging threats, including cyber, hybrid and information warfare. The next Labour government will take an active and progressive approach to NATO, pushing for meaningful dialogue wherever possible, and encouraging the alliance to use NATO membership to promote human rights and the rule of law.
Labour will also be more active in the United Nations, including by stepping up our commitment to peacekeeping. Our highly skilled personnel and specialist capabilities can provide a significant boost to UN missions in areas where they need it the most, such as engineering and logistics, airlift and maritime patrol. The engineering and medical skills demonstrated by our troops in South Sudan highlight what the UK can bring to the table.
The next Labour government will also match this increase in personnel and resources with a promise to treble the UK’s financial commitment by increasing the available funds for UN peacekeeping operations to £100m a year.
In contrast to the Conservatives, who have consistently failed to show meaningful global leadership, and who now seem determined to turn in on themselves, Labour will endeavour to work proactively with our allies to enhance global security and to create a more peaceful and secure world.