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  1. Politics
  2. Labour
4 March 2024

Why Labour is moving closer to Europe on defence

The threat of a Trump presidency only makes a continental partnership more urgent.

By Freddie Hayward

The Russians are listening. That was the lesson German defence chiefs learned over the weekend after a video call between some of its senior air force officers was intercepted and then leaked. In a conversation about why the German government would not send Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine, the Luftwaffe chief, Ingo Gerhartz, suggested that Britain had people on the ground in the country. The news came after the New York Times recently revealed that MI6 had worked closely with the CIA to support Ukrainian intelligence since fighting broke out in 2014.

It is a reminder that – beneath the political chaos – the British government is trying to win a war. Mock villages in East Anglia have been built to train Ukrainians. The army has taught 34,000 Ukrainians to fight since June 2022 and more than 60,000 since the war began in 2014. Britain has pledged almost £12bn in direct military support for Ukraine (a 2p cut to income tax would cost only £2bn more). That compares with around $75bn from the US, with a further $60bn struggling to get through Congress after Donald Trump ordered his supporters to oppose it.

Because Trump may end American support for Ukraine if he enters office next January, Europe must urgently bolster its own defence capabilities. That is one reason why Labour wants to rebuild the UK’s relationship with Europe. The plan is to agree a European security pact as soon as possible. This would be in addition to a defence agreement with the Germans within the first six months of a Labour government, something the party first suggested back in 2022. The aim is to increase cooperation in training, procurement and military-industrial strategy in order to ensure Europe can fuel Ukraine’s fight against Russia. In other words, to build bombs together.

Labour faces a few problems. The first, as we’ve discussed before, is money. The party will have to reconcile the need to increase defence spending with its self-imposed fiscal constraints. The second is that, as Labour’s defence bigwig John Healey argued in a speech last week, the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence need serious reform (of procurement, and the strained relationship with the Treasury, for instance).

But that shouldn’t distract from the low-hanging fruit. The EU offered a security pact to Boris Johnson in 2019 but he said no. In other words, the EU has already said it wants to do this, and has continued to indicate its interest about a deal to Labour. This is an area where the party hopes to make progress quickly upon entering office

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[See also: Sadiq Khan is lucky to have such useless opponents]


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