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14 September 2017

This single speech shows that the Tories aren’t taking Corbyn or Brexit seriously

The world has changed a lot since Britain voted Leave – unless you’re a Conservative.

By Stephen Bush

Jean-Claude Juncker used his state of the union address to call for a wide variety of measures, among them greater defence integration across the European Union – or, in Brexiteer speak, “an EU army”.

This is being taken as validation of the Vote Leave campaign, which among other things warned that remaining meant being part of an EU army. The reality is that if anything, Brexit has made British participation in an EU army more likely.

As a member state, the United Kingdom could veto the creation of an EU army if it wanted to, it can’t from the outside. As the British government wisely wants to continue participation in EU-wide security programmes, as most of the threats the EU faces are also threats to the United Kingdom, that may now involve some British participation in… you guessed it, a European army.

As George notes, the United Kingdom has sacrificed its ability to shape the structures of the EU for a (real or perceived) greater freedom of manoeuvre elsewhere. (Don’t forget either that an EU army is partly a way that Germany can spend more on European defence without offending either its own or its neighbours’ cultural sensibilities.)

Away from the question of Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe, it’s worth noting however that quite a lot has changed as far as defence and security issues go since the United Kingdom voted to leave. Donald Trump, an avowed sceptic of Nato and the Western alliance, has been elected president of the United States. Jeremy Corbyn, who, likewise, has been frequently critical of the alliance, albeit for very different reasons to Trump, came within a whisker of winning the popular vote and needs a very small swing, historically speaking, to win the next election.

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It’s perfectly plausible that, in 2022, a re-elected Trump and a newly-elected Corbyn could both be in office, meaning that Nato will be effectively a paper tiger. Whether you think that’s a good or a bad thing, it unquestionably changes the foreign policy calculus as far as the question of what the EU’s defence arrangements look like.

And that speaks to one of the more surreal aspects of British politics in 2017. Brexiteer politicians have yet to adjust their policy objectives, either to the reality of Britain’s Leave vote or to the very real possibility of a Corbyn victory.