Australian Nuclear Submarine Square

The AUKUS agreement should be that start of Global Britain bearing fruit

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WHILE IT IS NATURAL for many to focus on the Cabinet reshuffle as the main news of the week, the recent announcement of a multilateral security agreement between the UK, the USA and Australia will have a far longer and more substantial effect than which MP is now responsible for which sector of Government. Not only does this agreement benefit our immediate security concerns by solidifying our relationships with two of our oldest allies, it sets the tone and direction of focus for the UK’s foreign and security policy for the long term.

The new agreement – known as ‘AUKUS’ – is aimed at countering the growth of China in the Indo-Pacific region, with the first step towards this goal being the development of 6 nuclear-powered submarines for use by the Australian Navy. This is a technology the UK and the USA have used for decades, along with 4 other countries – China, France, India and Russia. Unlike these other countries however, Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines will only be armed with traditional weapons and not nuclear weapons – with the UK and the USA rightly upholding their commitments to nuclear non-proliferation under International Law.

Regardless of the weaponry onboard, this deal is still a significant agreement, and firmly places the UK at the forefront of the Western pushback against the growth of China. Such an agreement – with its ambitious scope and cooperation with our oldest and best allies – must now form the benchmark for the future of ‘Global Britain’. This is an idea which is about more than linking trade deals and should signify the need for the United Kingdom to take a lead on significant issues within the international community and break away from the European Union approach which seeks to placate and play second fiddle to major competitors like China and Russia. Hopefully the new Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss MP, will bring her ambition and commitment – which served her so well in the Department for International Trade, delivering for Brexit – to now put this vision into effect in her new role.

The cherry on top of this, is the fact it means the agreement Australia signed with France and the EU in 2016 – worth £65 billion – to deliver 12 non-nuclear French-built attack submarines, has now been rendered null and void. The Australians have made clear the French deal was taking too long and costs were spiralling, much preferring to now use the enhanced skills and technology possessed by UK and American engineers. Naturally the French and the EU are rapidly trying to undermine the new deal to try and save face – not helped by the European Commission High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, confessing he only learnt of the new ‘AUKUS’ deal through the media. Not the best sign for an organisation which claims to be a global player!

One thing is certain, this deal – which side-lines the EU and shows the UK’s rock-solid international reputation – will force the EU to pick up the pace for their vision of an EU Army, with Emmanuel Macron furthering his ‘Napoleon complex’ by putting himself at its head when France takes over the rolling EU Council Presidency in January 2022.

With this new ‘AUKUS’ deal laying the ground-work, the UK must not follow the EU’s lead by rushing into a blind panic. Instead, we must take a strategic approach in how to refocus our foreign and security approach, away from Europe and towards China and Russia. This means continuing with our push to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and further develop our new relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) group, both of which have a specific focus on countering the influence of China.

‘AUKUS’ is only possible without the involvement of the EU because of Brexit and the freedom from common EU foreign and Security policy it gives us. This is an opportunity we cannot afford to waste, and the ambition we have shown to directly compete with the EU and come out on top must now be turned towards other areas, such as unblocking the World Trade Organisation and re-engaging with the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister will be able to enjoy a few days of good news. However, just as has happened many times before, if these opportunities are wasted, then Boris Johnson will be facing an uphill struggle to stay in power.

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