NATO has been the cornerstone of European defence and security for over 70 years. Yet a great number of European countries continually fail to meet their NATO commitments on defence spending. At the same time, the European Union is now developing its own rival military power. This extension of European federalism to the sphere of defence will erode individual national military independence and further undermine the true guarantor of European security, NATO.

All NATO members have agreed to the defence spending target of 2% of GDP, as part of the principle of burden-sharing. However, some countries are not contributing their fair share of this burden. According to the Henry Jackson Society, mainland EU countries which are members of NATO have collectively shortchanged the alliance by £338 billion over the past 5 years. Over this time-frame, Italy has underspent by 43%, Spain by 54%, Germany by 39% and France by 9%. Britain makes up almost a third of total defence spending by all those countries which are members of NATO and the EU. The only other NATO and EU member which manages to pay their dues in full is Greece, in spite of their huge financial problems over the past few years.

This huge subsidy by the UK for the defence of Europe has gone largely unnoticed in the debates about the financial settlement as Britain leaves the EU. For a long time, Britain has spent more than our fair share of the bill for European security, while other EU countries fail to uphold their NATO responsibilities. It is time British leaders followed the example of President Trump in pressuring mainland European countries to fulfil their NATO responsibilities.

Some European leaders are unashamed in their lack of commitment to NATO. Martin Schulz, the leader of the German SPD, issued a “clear no to the ‘2% target’ of Trump”. Instead, he believes Germany should build a strong European Defence Union, and eventually, an EU army, as part of his vision for a United States of Europe by 2025.

Despite the denials by Remain campaigners, such as by the then Prime Minister David Cameron in the run up to the EU Referendum, EU proposals for a Defence Union are accelerating. Earlier this month, plans for a Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) were finalised by the European Council. 25 EU countries signed up, with the first projects to be undertaken in the New Year.

EU leaders, such as the Italian politician, Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, argue EU defence integration will complement, rather than rival, NATO. They say the EU “will continue to work closely” with NATO. Yet this viewpoint is at odds with the EU’s stated intention to develop strategic autonomy in defence. The EU schemes which make up the emerging Defence Union, such as the European Defence Fund, will be controlled by decision-making in Brussels - with no input from NATO!

Some European ministers have even been openly critical of NATO.  The German Defence Minister, Ursula Von Der Leyen, used the EU’s “inability” to intervene in Ukraine and the Western Balkans to justify EU defence integration. In actual fact, NATO did play an important role in ending the ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslav Wars. This reflects European leaders’ rejection of NATO – despite its historical significance in maintaining peace – and federalist belief in a European army.

The threat to NATO is a key risk for Britain of EU defence integration. Yet there is another concern: whether the UK itself will become entangled with the European Defence Union and PESCO – perhaps by the back door, even as it leaves the EU. One way this risk of entanglement is occurring is through procurement deals between British companies and the emerging EU Defence Union. While Britain is one of the 3 current EU countries not to sign up as core PESCO members, the British Government has indicated its intention to participate in a number of schemes which make up the Defence Union - such as the European Defence Fund and the European Defence Industrial Development Programme. Most concerningly, last week the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, suggested Britain should "keep the door open" to joining PESCO.

The British Government should make clear to the EU we will maintain our strategic independence in defence policy, while committing to European security via NATO - provided EU countries also fulfil their obligations. It would be reckless - and a rejection of democracy - to surrender our national defence independence to Brussels, just after Britain has voted to Get Britain Out of the EU.