June 24, 2016

Defence Implications of Brexit - Submarines and Boris

Aged Chelsea pensioners still in step after voting today.

Now that Britain's Exit (Brexitfrom the European Union (EU) referendum vote count has ended (52% Leave and 48% Remain) there are many downside implications and perhaps alarmist expectations:


While there is an initial shock to defence analysts, foreign policy establishments and markets the forces and feelings of continuity should prove stronger.

Non-EU treaties, alliances, understandings and other Britain-Europe ties are more bonding than the EU (which under Merkel's + Brussels' EU domination was itself proving divisive).

The continental geography of almost all other EU members should limit exits. Ireland and Cyprus exiting may be something to watch.

Putin's Russia may want to exploit Britain's EU exit but Russia's targets are predictable - the old states of the Soviet Union (Ukraine, Poland, tiny Baltic States. etc).

The US maintaining more naval and Marine forces in the Baltic and Black Sea areas may diminish the still unproven pivot to Australia's own Asia-Pacific area.

Trident Successor Submarine Issues

It is difficult to measure the impact of Brexit Leave on these submarine issues. It may encourage Britain to think even more in terms of independent defence which may translate into Britain finally choosing 4 x replacement Trident SSBN's. This may be spurred by greater worry about a belligerent Russia.

-   Prime Minister David Cameron resigned today but will actually leave office in October 2016.
    As Cameron was a major supporter of Trident the Trident supporters in the UK Parliament and 
    government may lose ground.

-  there are claims the Trident decision will be made in the UK House of Commons before the UK
    Parliament rises on July 21, 2016

-  but I think it most likely in the confusion and acrimony of Brexit Leave the Trident decision will be
    pushed down the scale of priorities from the expected 2016 "Main Gate" decision point, to 2017 or

The resurgence of (mainly Remain in EU) Scottish-separate-from-Britain feeling may cause a future shutdown of Britain's current SSBN Base at Faslane (HMNB Clyde).

Forces of Continuity

Britain is still in NATO which provides continuity in Britain's defence relations with almost all countries of Europe, the US and Canada.

-  Britain's planning and mandate to fight Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria) has much to do with 
   the NATO Summit in Wales September 2014 and at NATO HQ, Brussels in December 2014

Britain is still in the intelligence sharing UKUSA "Five Eyes" structure

I initially though Britain would need to break ties with the EU agency known as the European Defence Agency (EDA). But there is provision for non-EU members enabling them to participate in EDA’s projects and programmes without exercising voting rights.

-  the EDA handles an expanding range of roles including: crisis management, weapons research, production and purchasing cooperation

Non-members of the EU can still participate in the internal market 
- see this subsequent article.

Some continuity exists due to the length of time to exit from the EU. This would likely be a minimum of 2 years (under Article 50) - perhaps starting now  (depending on what the UK Parliament and Cameron decide)

-  The defence views or non-views of Boris Johnson's (now a ruling Conservative Party MP) may be 
    pivotal. He is widely considered a replacement Prime Minister (replacing Cameron)

Opportunities for Australia

-  Britain may be hungrier to sell (drop arms prices) outside the EU defence. Australia is a long term customer for British defence products, especially naval vessels.  

-   Australia's Future Frigates CEP is considering choosing from a shortlist of three sellers.
    One is Britain's BAE Systems (Type 26 Frigate). The other competitors are remaining EU
    Members: Italy's Fincantieri (FREMM Frigate) and Spain's Navantia (redesigned F100 Frigate)

-  this may be in the context of heightened trade across the board between Britain and Australia. 

The up and coming Prime Minister-to-be, and main Brexit Leave advocate, Boris Johnson, hunches back while competing in Quasimodo-bell-pulling at the London Olympics, 2012. 



romingfree said...

It will be interesting to see the reaction of NATO and the intelligent over a period of time.
With the exit of UK from EU it begs the question of what will occur with Scotland and Nth Ireland. Both areas want to stay in the EU and could this be the start of the breaking up of the UK.

In regards to security, while intelligence will continue to be shared there maybe a reluctance to fully embrace the UK. The extremists and terrorist may also see an opportunity while England is in a state of shock to carry out attacks either direct or through cyber to further disrupt the country. The financial sector would be a good target for cyber attacks.

Anonymous said...


With Brexit, Scotland (given its largely pro EU vote) will be pushing for a referendum on its independance. That referendum to come will have an impact politically and militarily on the UK. It may have a good chance now. Are some of the submarines' bases in Scotland?

MHalblaub said...

The Scotish Government made it clear before the vote that there will be new referendum in case the Scotish want to stay and GB wants to leave.

It was right the second statement from the Scotish Leader after David Camaron resigned.

The British parliament has to make the decision to leave. We will see what will happen there.


Peter Coates said...

Hi romingfree

Those at NATO and multilateral intelligence structures will be making an extra effort to secure and trumpet solidarity with Britain. Countering Russian opportunism will be a major challenge.

I think the status of Scotland will be complicated and unpredictable. For example many Scots want independence, EU Remain, but don't want to adopt the EU's EURO problem child.

Republicans on both sides of the Irish/Northern Ireland border may turn up the sectarian heat with the hope that Protestants will flee, seeking sanctuary in England/Wales.

Yes even during Scotland's 2014 referendum the issue of the breakdown/breakoff of GCHQ's Glasgow regional node (covering Scotland) came up. Also border protection into England via an independent Scotland may be messy.

A mighty fluid situation.



Peter Coates said...

Hi KQN and MHalblaub

(Also see my response above to romingfree on Scotland)

Yes the status of Scotland will be complicated and unpredictable. With another Referendum the Scots may well gain independence, within the EU, but without adopting the EURO (a new Scottish currency called the "wee Dram"? This will make Scotland's trade and border relations with Britain highly complex.

It could be (and I hope) Scotland still retains Faslane Naval Base - where Britain's SSBNs and Astute class SSN squadrons are based and occasionally visiting US nuclear subs - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMNB_Clyde . The economic benefits to Scotland of the Base may exceed Leftist/Pacifist ideological luxuries.

A long term (20-30 year?) lease on the base with contingency planning to withdraw to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMNB_Devonport - where the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMNB_Devonport#Trafalgar-class_submarines (SSNs) are based, may be necessary.

Also this may work against the already major issue of replacing Britain's current Trident SSBNs with 4 x "Successor" Trident SSBNs.

A major, long term, set of submarine issues. Like "ambulance chasing" this is all beneficial for writing Submarine Matters :)



Peter Coates said...

This 26 June 2016 article http://sputniknews.com/military/20160626/1041978648/brexit-impact-us-british-sub-base.html discusses the value of the Faslane Base for the US:

"Commenting on the possible implications of the results of the Brexit referendum on Washington's military bases in the UK, former George W. Bush administration Under Secretary of Defense Dov S. Zakheim warned that the Pentagon will have to develop a 'Plan B' for its naval forces stationed in the country."

..."The main problem, he suggested, was the threat of Scottish nationalism, and the impact another, successful referendum on independence from the UK might have on an important submarine base in that region."


Graham Strouse said...

Scotland has never been sanguine with the presence of the SSNs and SSBNs. Unfortunately, the base at Faslane is the only one in the UK that has maintenance and security capabilities to dock and service the boats. I can't speak to cost, but I have read a couple reports that estimated it would take 10-20 years to build a suitable new facility.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Graham Strouse

Thanks for your comment. I very much agree.

It seems that even if the remaining British Government could afford the (probably) 30+ Billion Pounds to recreate Faslane's facilities elsewhere in Britain the space and safety requirements in crowded England (eg. in Devonport Base, Plymouth) are major. The dangers of moving the nuclear warhead facilities to Devonport may be less accidental exploding/fizzling nuclear warheads and more exploding solid missile fuel risks.

An alternate site in Milford Haven, Wales looks promising But longterm English concern about stoking Welsh nationalism (Welsh protestors from Day 1) is a dampner.

The huge disruption of Brexit to the UK defence/security budget and policy apparatus overall would make a 20 year relocation very difficult to plan and execute.

This may leave the Move to Kings Bay, Georgia, USA option the most logical.