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Earlier this year, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab vowed to use NATO and other European institutions to compensate for any erosion in Britain’s diplomatic and military influence after Brexit, promising to be “an even better neighbour” to the EU. He said: “There’s a great opportunity for us in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations to develop the future relationship into a really positive, win-win relationship. “Whether it’s through NATO, whether it’s through the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or even through the Council of Europe.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to show we’ll be not weaker, actually even better neighbours, allies and partners.”
Mr Raab’s comments underlined Britain’s eagerness to construct a new role for itself outside the EU, particularly now that it faces an unpredictable US administration, increased hostilities with Russia and China, and heightened tensions in the Middle East.
As the clock ticks down with the transition period with Brussels about to come to an end, unearthed reports reveal how France once tried to take Britain’s senior position in NATO.
A Briton has held the position of deputy supreme allied commander – the number two military post in the alliance – since 1951 but in 2017, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) was contemplating whether this would change after Brexit.
The role is central to securing NATO manpower and equipment for certain EU missions organised under so-called “Berlin-plus” arrangements.
RUSI deputy director-general Prof Malcolm Chalmers wrote in a briefing on the UK’s post-Brexit foreign and security policy: “There is already some discussion of the possibility that the assignment of the position…might have to be transferred to a NATO member that is a member of the EU.”
Among the countries seeking to exploit the potential reshuffle was France, The Times reported, claiming Paris sent an unofficial delegation to Washington to convince US officials that French armed forces were better placed than their British counterparts to be America’s special ally in Europe after Brexit.
A source told the publication: “The French team were at pains to point out how useful the French military could be as an ally and their track record in getting things done in troublespots where the US was not as strong as it wished to be.
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“They also pointed out that, after Brexit, they would be the only EU country with this capability.”
The post was then held by General Sir Adrian Bradshaw.
Tory MPs scoffed at suggestions France would replace Britain.
Former Defence Minister and ex-Naval officer Andrew Murrison said it simply represented the latest attempt by France to take NATO’s No 2 position and said Europe needed “100 percent UK engagement”.
And Sir Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, wrote on Twitter: “We aren’t going to surrender DSACEUR under any circs [sic].”
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A Ministry of Defence spokesman said at the time: “We will continue to play a leading role in European security.
“This includes providing NATO’s deputy supreme allied commander for Europe.”
The think-tank claimed a solution could have been the creation of a second equivalent position within NATO or the UK swapping its role for another senior one, such as chief of staff.
While the consequences of losing the role were likely to be “relatively limited”, the “clear message” was that “the UK’s role and influence within NATO could be entirely ring-fenced from the consequences of Brexit”.
Despite France’s attempts, Britain did not end up losing its role.
Last year, NATO appointed Lieutenant General Tim Radford as its Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR), demonstrating the leading role the UK plays in the transatlantic alliance.
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