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Leaving the European Union: UK Armed Forces and Diplomatic Service

Published Friday, December 2, 2016

This House of Lords Library briefing has been prepared ahead of the debate on the impact of the withdrawal from the European Union on the United Kingdom’s armed forces and diplomatic service, to be held in the House of Lords on 8 December. The briefing examines current defence capabilities and cooperation between the UK and the EU. It then explores the possible future prospects for UK defence, particularly the role of the armed forces. The latter part of this briefing examines the UK’s diplomatic service, highlighting some of the issues that have arisen about the UK’s diplomatic relationship with the EU and its global role following the UK’s withdrawal. For reasons of brevity, this briefing does not examine the implications of the UK’s withdrawal on wider external relations, such as the UK’s future trade relationships with other countries in and outside the EU, or the impact on overseas development policy. Further reading on these subjects is identified in section 3.

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Following the referendum in June, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, outlined a “vision of Global Britain” in which the UK would play its “full part in promoting peace and prosperity around the world”, and would “with our brilliant armed forces and intelligence services—protect our national interests, our national security and the security of our allies”. Mrs May explained that in negotiating the UK’s exit from the European Union she would seek to reach a deal that would “reflect the kind of mature, cooperative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy”. She added that the UK’s new relationship with the EU would “make us think about our role in the wider world”, and give the country the “self-confidence and freedom to look beyond the continent of Europe and to the economic and diplomatic opportunities of the wider world”.

The UK has participated in a number of military and civilian missions as part of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy since 2003. Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, has said that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU should not inhibit future cooperation with missions that are in the national interest, although he has not elaborated on what form such cooperation would take. The UK could continue its defence cooperation with European partners through NATO, through continued participation in EU structures and operations as a third country nation, or through bilateral relations with EU partners. The importance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, both during negotiations and after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, has also been emphasised, although questions have been raised in regard to its resourcing but also how it will work with the new departments, the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade.

Lords Library notes LLN-2016-0066

Author: Mary Santo

Topics: Armed forces, Defence expenditure, EU defence policy, EU external relations, EU law and treaties, Europe, NATO

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The House of Lords Library delivers research and information services to Members and staff of the House in support of parliamentary business.