“THERE ARE few constants or certainties in Brexit”, the Bishop of Portsmouth has warned.
The Rt Rev Christopher Foster made his comments while speaking in the House of Lords on the impact of the withdrawal from the European Union on the United Kingdom’s armed forces and diplomatic services.
He said that Brexit will have ‘far-reaching implications’ for Britain’s place in the wider world as well as Europe.
“From a security perspective, the decision to leave the EU represents as significant a shift as the decision in the late 1960s to withdraw from bases east of Suez,” he said.
Bishop Foster said that the decision to leave the EU also represents ‘the biggest administrative and legislative challenge’ to face a Government since 1945. He warned that this is likely to stretch government departments’ ability to engage with other issues.
“During the referendum campaign the subjects of foreign policy and defence and security received scant attention,” he said.
He said that when defence was mentioned, it was in ‘apocalyptic terms’.
“The then Chancellor claimed that leaving the EU would trigger World War III, while the then UKIP leader argued that staying would see the UK in an EU army commanded by tin-pot generals from Brussels.”
He said that the November 2015 defence review did not assess the defence and security implications of a UK exit from the European Union, adding that in light of Brexit, governments should review key strategic judgements and policy choices.
He asked whether the strategic defence and security review objective as set out in the November 2015 review, to ‘invest more in our relationships with our traditional allies and partners and build stronger partnerships around the world, to multiply what we can achieve alone’, will remain in a post-Brexit world?
“Is the unilateralism of Brexit compatible with the ambition of developing with other nations a rules-based international order?” he asked.
He said that Brexit ‘has left some confusion about our ambition’.
“This will be a challenge, and it also presents a trap, as there may be the temptation to indulge in demonstrations of national defence virility,” he added.
Bishop Foster said that ‘there is some ambiguity in the political rhetoric’. He referred to comments from the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, who explained his decision to support Brexit, saying that ‘Yes we would lose the benefits of being part of an emerging superstate but our vision would be global as we have the weight to count, if not to command, alone’.
“It will be important to be clear about our driving objective,” said Bishop Foster.
He said that he welcomed the Government’s commitment to spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence, though he added: “That totemic target is now seen in its true light: 2 per cent of what? We already face the uncertainty of variable exchange rates and the OBR’s (Office of Budget Responsibility) forecasts of future GDP growth.
“Our commitment must not be to a particular spend or symbolic percentage, nor based on a new US President’s reported, and at best confused, thinking on NATO, but to what is needed for our security and defence. That is surely what our people expect,” he explained.
He called for a ‘clear and articulate strategy’ with ‘investment in capabilities’.