House of Commons Library

Brexit and UK Defence: An Explainer

Published Friday, October 18, 2019

A number of initiatives to further the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy have been agreed, with the participation of the UK, since the Brexit referendum in 2016. What do they entail and what will be the impact for the UK when it leaves the EU?

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EU defence cooperation has been a stated ambition of EU Member States since the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. The intergovernmental nature of this policy area, however, has meant that its evolution and development has been entirely dependent upon political will and the convergence of competing national interests among the EU Member States, in particular the UK, France and Germany. Equally, it has been quick to lose impetus when political will has been lost and in the face of other challenges, such as the 2008 global economic crisis.

In the last few years there has been a renewed enthusiasm for defence cooperation which has seen the agreement of several mutually reinforcing initiatives that will progress the EU defence project, including an expansion of EU military planning capabilities, the launch of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), and the creation of the European Defence Fund (EDF), which will see the direct use of the EU budget for military purposes for the first time in the institution's  history. Those developments are currently being raised within the context of Brexit in the UK.

This short briefing examines the legal basis for EU defence, the UK’s views, what has been agreed within the EU since the 2016 Brexit referendum and what Brexit will mean for the UK’s armed forces.

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