The recent UK vote for Brexit was instantly seen by the ruling Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) as a brilliant opportunity to push for another Independence referendum. Should Scotland finally break away, it will have huge implications for the future of the sea-based nuclear deterrent force at HM Naval Base Clyde.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron is said to have banned contingency plans to switch the Trident submarines and Astute Class attack boats to England. These should now be developed under new P.M. Theresa May. Devonport – already home to the SSBN refit yard and also Trafalgar Class SSNs – will surely be waiting in the wings.
Similarly suitable investment would enable major surface warship construction to be switched from the Clyde and restored to England on the Solent, in Devon, on Merseyside or in Cumbria. Why should the Royal Navy neglect English, or even Northern Irish and Welsh yard, in order to favour warship construction in a breakaway Scotland that causes massive disruption by kicking submarines out of Faslane?
On the broader strategic defence stage, following the vote for Brexit NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated Britain’s position in the alliance is unchanged. It remains a strong and committed NATO member and will continue to play a leading role.
Stoltenberg emphasised that today, as the world faces “more instability and uncertainty, NATO is more important than ever as a platform for cooperation among European allies, and between Europe and North America. A strong, united and determined NATO remains an essential pillar of stability in a turbulent world, and a key contributor to international peace and security.”
It is in NATO that Western nations must step up their cooperation, particularly in the face of a renewed Russian threat. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU hopefully nullifies any prospect of a European Army. The EU was reportedly offering ‘integrated defence capacities’, but these would be a pointless and wasteful duplication of what NATO already does so well. The EU has always denied it has ‘EU Army’ ambitions but has a track record of creating things by the back door. The EU itself grew out from the Economic Community (EC) into an attempt at a United States of Europe.
Britain has two years (or more) to negotiate its way out of the EU. In this time there will be General Elections in France and Germany. Some of the other countries that might seek to exit the EU will look at the deal that Britain obtains and possibly want to break away and gain the same for themselves. At the end of the UK’s fixed term Parliament there will be a General Election (in 2020). Both the United Kingdom and Europe will soon be very different.
Even though the gears of history are grinding, NATO will remain to defend Britain and her allies. Perhaps the UK government, which under David Cameron was keen on cutting UK military capabilities and relying on European partners to plug the gaps, will shake up defence? In addition to committing to four new Trident Successor submarines might Theresa May preside over the creation of a stronger, bigger Royal Navy commensurate with the status and attitude of Britain as a global trading nation? Britain must maintain its focus on the sea and the wider world rather than worry about inward-looking, politically unstable and economically shaky Continental Europe