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13th Apr 2024

UK to 'make most' of Nato after leaving EU

  • Cameron (r) at the Nato summit in Warsaw on Friday. Brexit "did not dominate" the talks, he said (Photo: nato.int)

The UK will strive to play a role in EU foreign policy after it leaves, but will “make the most” of Nato and bilateral ties to pursue national interests, prime minister David Cameron has said.

Speaking on Saturday (9 July) after the Nato summit in Warsaw, he said he had told fellow leaders “that Britain leaving the European Union did not mean it was turning its back on Europe or on European security”.

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  • Trident: Britain and France are the EU's two only nuclear armed states (Photo: defence images)

“As we leave the European Union, we won’t be around that table at the same time, but Britain will have to become one of Europe’s most important partners”, he said.

“The UK should be as close as possible to the European Union when it comes to security, when it comes to diplomacy, when it comes to migration and trade”.

He indicated that UK warships would continue to serve in the EU’s anti-pirate mission in the Gulf of Aden and its anti-migrant smuggler operation in the Mediterranean.

“I’m sure that if there are EU operations that we agree with there’ll be an opportunity to partner in some way”, he said.

He said the UK would lobby EU states to keep a “strong and unified European position” on Russia.

He also indicated that Britain would try to steer the EU away from creating parallel military structures to Nato.

“There’s a danger of that … This is something we’re going to have watch out for”, he said, referring to past French and German talk of creating an EU military HQ.

Making the most of it

Cameron said the UK would increasingly turn to other formats to pursue national interests, however.

“What we now need to do is to make the most of all the other relationships that we have, whether it’s Nato, the G7, the G20, or the Commonwealth”, he said, referring to two clubs of wealthy nations and to Britain’s former colonies.

“We’re going to strengthen the bilateral relationships we have, including here in Poland”, he added.

He said Britain’s armed forces are “a very important part of projecting British power and British influence around the world”.

“Today we are a major power inside the European Union, tomorrow we’ll be a major power outside the European Union”, he said.

Underlining the point, he announced that he would call a vote in the British parliament on 18 July on renewing Britain’s nuclear arsenal, the so called Trident fleet of four submarines.

He noted that Britain was sending 650 soldiers to protect Estonia and Poland from Russian aggression in a new Nato force.

He also said that British warships would continue to serve in Nato’s anti-migrant smuggler operation in the Aegean.

Cameron said Brexit “was not a big subject of discussion” at the Nato leaders’ dinner on Friday.

“In so much as the discussion was about Britain’s exit from the European Union, there were a lot of generous remarks, in particular by president Barack Obama, who said what a reliable partner Britain had been”, he said.

He also hinted that he had begun “scoping out” EU leaders on “what are the trade and other opportunities” in the future.

French advice

Speaking also in Warsaw on Saturday, French president Francois Hollande said “it doesn’t make sense for the EU” to have “defence structures separate from Nato”.

But he said the EU should be “more robust” in taking care “of its own defence” in future.

He said the UK should initiate formal EU divorce talks “as quickly as possible” and that negotiations should proceed in “an open manner, to get rid of all this uncertainty”.

Obama had on Friday urged the EU not to take an “adversarial” position in the talks.

He said on Saturday that “neither side” should “harden positions in ways that ultimately do damage to their respective economies”.

Hollande said the US leader “didn’t confide in me personally and give me advice what to do”.

He described Obama’s public remarks as “friendly advice”, but he joked that when US voters go the urns in November, he would reserve the right to give them “friendly advice … to make the right choice” between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

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