Former Navy leaders urge past and present servicemen to vote to leave EU

A group of former naval leaders have joined a campaign urging serving and retired military personnel to back Brexit.

Wednesday, 25th May 2016, 7:49 am
Updated Wednesday, 25th May 2016, 8:53 am

Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, Rear Admiral Roger Lane-Nott, Rear Admiral Conrad Jenkin, Rear Admiral Richard Heaslip and Commodore Mike Clapp are among senior military veterans to issue the call, along with Falklands War veteran Major General Julian Thompson and former SAS chief General Sir Michael Rose.

Maj Gen Thompson, who led 3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands, said the UK found itself “dominated by people who we do not elect” in Brussels.

Gen Rose - who was incorrectly included on a list of top brass backing Remain issued by Downing Street in February - said European laws had “seriously undermined” the UK’s combat effectiveness.

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The group of retired senior officers from the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Marines gave their support to the Veterans for Britain campaign, which is calling for a Leave vote on June 23.

In his message to veterans, Maj Gen Thompson said: “The result of this referendum will determine irrevocably what kind of country we, our children and our grandchildren will live in.

“Either Great Britain will remain in the EU, dominated by people who we do not elect, who we cannot throw out and who dictate many of the laws which govern us, or we will take back control and return to what we were: an independent country in which our Parliament is elected by us, and answerable to us as the lawmaker.”

Gen Rose, who received an apology from Number 10 after being included in a letter from senior military commanders warning that Brexit posed a threat to security, said: “European law, in my view, has already seriously undermined UK’s combat effectiveness as a result of the intrusion of European law into national law and today our service men and women are in danger of becoming no more than civilians in uniform.”

He said the demands of European defence policies risked undermining the effectiveness of the Nato alliance.

“I believe that the UK’s contribution to European defence can manifestly be better made solely through Nato than by trying to spread our limited resources too thinly, in order to include European defence and security policy initiatives into the UK’s defence programme,” he said.

In an apparent swipe at David Cameron and the Remain camp, Gen Rose added: “It is something of an insult to our European partners, in particular France and Germany, to imply that UK membership of the European Union is necessary to secure future peace in Europe.”

Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, a former deputy chief of the defence staff, said the Brussels institutions were “an unacceptable and illegitimate form of government” with no intention of reforming.

Other retired officers supporting the campaign were Lieutenant General Jonathon Riley, Major General Tim Cross, Major General Nick Vaux, and Major General Malcolm Hunt.

Lt Gen Riley, who was deputy commander of the ISAF alliance in Afghanistan, said: “The ultimate ambition of the EU is undoubtedly EU armed forces.”

He asked: “Who would control the EU armed forces? The EU Commission? Can we call them to account? Can we seriously believe that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines should be sent into danger by a body over which we have no control, and which answers to none of us?”

Rear Admiral Heaslip, former commander of the Navy’s submarine service, said: “Since its inception the EU has shown minimal interest in defence. With the exception of France, none of them can be said to have anything approaching an up-to-date all-round military capability. If the subject comes up, it is to Nato that the EU turns for help.

“The claim that the existence of the EU has saved us from war for 70 years is a myth.”

He added that “the very last thing we need is to merge our defence with the EU”.

The intervention comes after the Prime Minister used a speech earlier in May to warn that Brexit could put peace and stability on the Continent at risk.

Mr Cameron’s speech was supported by video messages from four Second World War veterans including former head of the military Field Marshal Lord Bramall.