... and take new step to­wards Brus­sels army

Daily Mail - - News - By Brus­sels Cor­re­spon­dent

EU na­tions agreed to club to­gether to boost their de­fence power yes­ter­day.

It was the lat­est step to­wards what crit­ics say could a Brus­sels army.

Some 23 of the Euro­pean Union’s 28 mem­ber states pledged to in­crease their de­fence spend­ing and to pool re­sources to buy and de­velop items such as drones, tanks and air­craft.

Bri­tain re­fused to sign up – but has qui­etly dropped op­po­si­tion to closer EU mil­i­tary in­te­gra­tion and has pushed for an op­tion to join the ar­range­ment as Brexit un­folds.

For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son yes­ter­day wel­comed the plans at a meet­ing of EU min­is­ters in Brus­sels, where the agree­ment was signed off. He said: ‘We think there is a lot of prom­ise in the ideas and we will be back­ing them up.’

Cam­paign­ers said the deal to pool mil­i­tary re­sources could pose a threat to Nato. Oth­ers said it was far short of the widerang­ing plans wanted by some EU fed­er­al­ists and has ‘no chance of work­ing’.

Bri­tain joined other EU coun­tries in­clud­ing Ire­land and Den­mark in re­fus­ing to sign the agree­ment, which was driven by Ger­many and France. But Bri­tish of­fi­cials said the UK could join the so-called ‘per­ma­nent struc­tured co-op­er­a­tion’ (Pesco) deal in the fu­ture. It will also be able to take part in projects as a ‘third coun­try’ af­ter Brexit.

Co-op­er­a­tion could al­low Bri­tain to take part in valu­able re­search pro­grammes.

Brus­sels of­fi­cials in­sist that the ar­range­ment will com­ple­ment Nato by help­ing mem­ber states spend more ef­fi­ciently.

But UK cam­paign group Veter­ans for Bri­tain de­scribed the agree­ment as a ‘com­plete mess’. A spokesman said it was ‘un­help­ful to Nato, which is the bedrock of our de­fence’.

Frederic Mauro, a de­fence ex­pert who ad­vises the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, said he was ‘deeply scep­ti­cal’ about the agree­ment, which could see the cre­ation of a field hos­pi­tal as its first main project.

‘All these lit­tle projects – they won’t help the EU’s in­de­pen­dent ca­pac­ity,’ he said. ‘It has no chance of work­ing.’

Dur­ing the Brexit ref­er­en­dum, for­mer prime min­is­ter David Cameron in­sisted that the UK join­ing up a sup­posed EU army ‘was not go­ing to hap­pen’.

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