The Defence Secretary said he was proud of the link and insisted the UK would go on “playing our part” in the security of the continent, but stressed some elements of that cooperation would require a new deal. He claimed it was not a “bargaining process” but that all sides would be “worse off” if there was not a deal.
Leaked minutes of a Cabinet committee meeting revealed the extensive discussions about how the UK’s security and defence expertise could be used to help secure a deal with Brussels.
The Sunday Telegraph reported ministers identified the UK’s “very strong hand” on defence as a key advantage in the talks. Downing Street has insisted the reference in Theresa May’s Article 50 notification letter to security – warning that cooperation between EU nations on matters of security would be “weakened” if there was not a deal – was not a threat but a simple statement of facts.
On Sunday, Sir Michael said: “It’s very important to link trade and security because what we are now looking for is a deep and special partnership that covers both economic and security cooperation. Those two things go together.”
He was “absolutely” proud of that link, he added, stating: “It’s very important that we go on committing to the security of the continent.”
Asked about the Sunday Telegraph report, he said: “I’m not going to get into what happened at what meeting, but it is a fact that we have the biggest defence budget in Europe, we are a leading player inside Nato.
In her Article 50 letter to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, Theresa May warned: “Europe’s security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the Cold War.
“Weakening our cooperation for the prosperity and protection of our citizens would be a costly mistake.”
Sir Michael refused to be drawn on the details of any “implementation” agreements which could cover trade and the economy after Brexit during the process of shifting to a new deal.
Pressed on whether free movement could still be happening and the UK could still be subject to the European Court of Justice at the time of the next election, he said: “No, we have made it clear that we are leaving the European Union, we are leaving the single market, we are leaving the customs union and we will no longer be under the ambit of the European Court of Justice.
“It is also clear that we have to avoid a cliff edge.
“We need to give business and the various sectors of our economy the certainty that they need that there won’t suddenly be a huge difference between the day after we leave and the day before.”