In each case, the procedure is the same. The MP writes to the ministry and back comes an anodyne, reassuring letter from the relevant minister, invariably denying everything. The MP passes the letter on, and then closes down his brain, his duty done.
Several such letters, however, have found their way to us and one, in particular, from Lord Drayson. That his response beggars belief is to put it mildly. According to the minister for defence procurement, we – i.e., the government – are not "preparing to integrate Britain's Armed Forces with the EU's planned 'Rapid Reaction Force'". There is, writes Drayson. "no such force, nor is there any plan for one".
There you have it. There is no European Rapid Reaction Force and no plan for one. This is actually written by a minister, in a letter addressed to Sir Patrick Comack MP. "The media frequently use the name in error to refer to a catalogue of troops that member states in 2003 declared themselves able in principle to make available for EU operations," Drayson writes.
Of course, we know different. The ERRF was outlined at the Helsinki European Council in December 1999, which proposed a Headline Goal of 60,000 troops plus appropriate aerial and naval support, to be deployable within 60 days and sustainable for a year, to be in place by 2003. The record of the meeting states:
The European Council underlines its determination to develop an autonomous capacity to take decisions and, where NATO as a whole is not engaged, to launch and conduct EU-led military operations in response to international crises…And, if Drayson is in doubt, he should perhaps talk to Geoff Hoon who in Parliament a few months later happily answered questions on the ERRF, telling MPs that merely that there was no "standing European Rapid Reaction Force". "Existing national or multinational forces, declared under the Helsinki Headline Goal, will be made available to the EU on a voluntary, case-by-case basis when required for a crisis management operation."
Building on the guidelines established at the Cologne European Council and on the basis of the Presidency's reports, the European Council has agreed in particular the following: cooperating voluntarily in EU-led operations, Member States must be able, by 2003, to deploy within 60 days and sustain for at least 1 year military forces of up to 50,000-60,000 persons capable of the full range of Petersberg tasks.
That was again his line in November 2000, when he declared that the "objective of the European Union in setting the Headline Goal is to ensure the ability of nations to be able to generate forces rapidly in response to a crisis," once again adding that "there will be no standing rapid reaction force".
Anyone who wants to read of the history of the development of the ERRF can refer to this official EU source, which clearly Drayson has not read.
But then, why should he bother? As we observed earlier, lying has become a way of life for ministers, a normal and routine tool of government. But does Drayson really think we are that stupid?