To quote what Michael Fallon MP once said in a Parliamentary committee about former City Minister Lord Myners during the ‘Fred the Shred’ furore: ‘Misleading Parliament is a serious offence; misleading the public is even worse. The honourable thing to do now would be to resign.‘
The same comment should now be directed at the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (International Security Strategy) at the Ministry of Defence, Gerald Howarth MP for misleading Parliament and the public. To set the scene, consider this Parliamentary written answer by Howarth published in Hansard on Thursday:
Rehman Chishti: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with his European counterparts on the pooling and sharing of military assets.
Mr Gerald Howarth: The Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), has regular discussions with his European counterparts on pooling and sharing. We believe that it is important that the UK seeks and exploits all opportunities to promote greater burden sharing and increased cooperation, in order to optimise capability development in Europe.
More specifically, I attended the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Defence Ministers’ formation on 24 May 2011, which included pooling and sharing as a topic for discussion. The UK took the opportunity at the discussions to re-emphasize the point that national commitments to any pooling and sharing initiatives must be voluntary, consistent with the fact that each member of the Council is a sovereign nation state.
The meeting at which pooling and sharing of military capabilities was discussed actually took place on 23rd May, but that is not how Gerald Howarth misled Parliament and the public. It was Howarth’s omission of important details about the meeting which Parliament should have been told and the public made aware that is the issue.
The fact of the matter is pooling and sharing initiatives in the military context here are not voluntary. They are being directed by the European Union. The matter is voluntary in so far as the EU will operate at arms length to provide support and foster pooling and sharing only as long as the member states actually get on with the business of carrying it out. Couched in the flowery diplomatic language of garblespeak this message is made clear in the adopted conclusions of the meeting:
(NB. This was split across two pages and has been merged for ease of reading)
If pooling and sharing of military assets was a matter purely for member states to engage in voluntarily, which Howarth wants Parliament and the public to believe, then what business does the Council of the European Union have setting best practice, scoping models for cooperation, defining success criteria, providing supporting tools and encouraging the European Defence Agency to help member states identify where assets can be pooled and shared? These are the actions of programme directors, not observers. The EU is in the driving seat.
So where does this square with Howarth’s alleged emphasis that national commitments to any pooling and sharing initiatives must be voluntary, consistent with the fact that each member of the Council is a sovereign nation state? His comment is utterly meaningless. In choosing to omit the information from the conclusions of the meeting as shown above, Howarth was deliberately engaged in an effort to deceive MPs and voters.
The reality is clear. The EU is – to coin David Cameron’s phrase – ‘nudging’ the member states into a position that makes it easy for EU-wide command and control to be implemented. The member states know this but are comfortable with it as it fits their aim of ever closer union, regardless of what their people may think.
One final point needs to be made here. Where is the media? What, for example, is the point of the Telegraph conducting an interview with the head of the French Navy to splash a story about the UK and France sharing an aircraft carrier, when it misses or ignores the real story behind it that the public must be told? Useless is a word that doesn’t come close to describing our national press.