Healey sets out UK’s path to close defence co-operation with EU

Defence Secretary John Healey said the UK would seek to join more European Union military programmes as the world deals with “a decade or more” of Russian aggression.

At the Nato summit in Washington, Mr Healey said the Government’s review of defence policy and spending would be carried out “at pace” in response to the threats facing the UK.

He suggested that closer integration with EU defence programmes and deals with member states would not need to wait for an overall security pact with Brussels.

Nato 75th anniversary summit – Washington DC
Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer with Defence Secretary John Healey at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Government’s strategic defence review will be launched next week, setting out how Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer intends to meet his spending target of 2.5% of gross domestic product.

Mr Healey told reporters: “What is really clear is that we’re facing a decade or more of growing Russian aggression.

“Supporting Ukraine and its ability to win is our first priority.

“That’s why on my second day in the job, I flew to Odesa and I spent the afternoon with (Volodymyr) Zelensky and his team.

“And when we’re facing growing threats across the board, then… the strategic defence review is our chance as a new government to get to grips with the threats that we face, the capabilities that we’ve got, the true state of the armed forces and of course the finances that may be available.”

The review was “the way that we balance the requirements of stronger national security with the responsibilities of sound public finances”.

“It needs to be done at pace, it will be done properly,” he said.

Mr Healey insisted that seeking closer defence ties with Brussels would not bind the UK into a European defence force.

But he suggested the UK could seek to join more areas of the EU’s permanent structured co-operation (Pesco) programme.

The UK is already part of one Pesco scheme on moving military equipment across the EU.

Mr Healey said: “So we’ve proved we can do it. There are one or two other programmes which may well be programmes in which we have a unique contribution to make and we can get a great deal out of being part of a programme like that.

“That does not require any new formal agreement, it does not require a EU-UK security pact in order to do that.”

Sir Keir will host the European Political Community summit next week which will give a further chance for him to lobby for greater co-operation.

Mr Healey acknowledged that talks on the formal UK-EU security pact sought by the Government were unlikely to start this year.

“In a way the declaration in week one from the new government is seen as significant by the European Union and its members,” he said.

“You’ll know that the European Union, European Commission takes a good few months to get itself sorted out and so it won’t be until the end of the year that it’s really in a position to start doing any sort of detailed discussion with us.

“So that’s why for me on defence, we can move faster than that, we must move faster than that.”

Mr Healey added: “On defence, we don’t need an EU-UK pact in order to look at where there may be areas that we can contribute on defence to a stronger European security, and actually it’s in our British interests to do a bit more together.”