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  • The Telegraph

Military veterans fear 'EU ambush' over post-Brexit defence co-operation with UK

Military veterans fear Britain is walking into an “EU ambush” on defence cooperation after the Government made clear its “unconditional” commitment to maintaining European security.

Theresa May was accused of blackmail in March when she used the Article 50 letter which triggered the Brexit process to warn security would be “weakened” by a failure to reach a deal on withdrawal.

But now the Government has appeared to back away from using one of its strongest negotiating chips, suggesting in a new Brexit position paper that the bloc’s security will not be put at risk by the talks.

The latest report also suggests that the UK will continue to work with the EU on aid projects despite concerns about the way in which money is spent.

The report, the 12th position paper published by the Government, sets out how the UK and EU could cooperate post-Brexit on defence, foreign policy and international development. It calls for a defence relationship with the EU “that goes beyond existing third country arrangements” and spells out the importance of British military and intelligence assets in the fight against terrorism and cyber crime.

Norway is currently the only country with that kind of arrangement which veterans argue means it has “submitted itself” to the bloc’s Common Defence policy, EU defence industry directives and membership of the European Defence Agency.

They believe the UK adopting such status would mean it being “locked into” European defence structures long into the future.

Major-General Julian Thompson, chairman of Veterans for Britain and a Royal Marines veteran who commanded the landing of British troops in the Falklands Conflict, said: “Britain is walking into a carefully planned EU ambush from which UK officials have not protected us.

“We would ask MPs, ministers and defence observers to urgently read through the 100,000+ words of EU plans, advisory notes and EU Council agreements completed since the Brexit vote.”

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said the paper suggested the Government "intends to surrender control of UK defence ot the EU".

"Under plans the government has been working on for months, if we want to build another naval warship in the future we will have to go cap in hand to Brussels," he wrote for the Telegraph.

"When it comes to defence, it is becoming clear that Brexit does not mean Brexit."

Mrs May’s Article 50 letter mentioned security 11 times over just four pages and was widely interpreted as a warning that cooperation on matters of safety could suffer unless a trade deal is done.

But the latest position paper states in its conclusion that the “UK is unconditionally committed to maintaining European security.”

The apparent watering down of the UK’s rhetoric on the key issue of security comes after Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, insisted Britain was not trying to “blackmail” the EU.

The position paper suggests the UK could also offer the EU a system of “classified information exchange” post-Brexit in a sign that the Government wants to take advantage of Britain’s world-leading intelligence services during negotiations.

It also states that the UK will continue to use its international development budget in “collaboration and alignment” with the EU.

Fears have been expressed at some of the projects backed by the EU in the past which have included wildlife bridges and ladders for fish. The paper’s offer of a "deep and special partnership" on defence and security, including the use of British military assets in EU operations, is intended as a carrot to entice EU negotiators to do a deal.

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