Documents considered by the Committee on 11 July 2018 Contents

10Operation Atalanta: relocation of Operational HQ away from the UK

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees

Document details

Council Decision amending Joint Action 2008/851/CFSP on a European Union military operation to contribute to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast

Legal base

Articles 28, 42(4) and 43(2) TEU; unanimity


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Document Number

(39939), 10567/18

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

10.1In December 2008, in response to Somali-based piracy and armed robbery at sea, the EU launched Operation Atalanta, within the framework of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The Operation aims to “deter and disrupt piracy in the Western Indian Ocean and protect vulnerable vessels from potential robbery or hijacking”. The area it covers is important as a trade route, with around 65 per cent of the UK’s oil and natural gas imports passing by the Horn of Africa and through the Suez Canal.72

10.2The UK has strongly supported Atalanta, providing both its Operational Headquarters (at the Ministry of Defence headquarters in Northwood) and the Operational Commander — currently Major General Charlie Strickland RM — since its inception in 2008. The Operation has been active ever since; its mandate was last extended by EU Foreign Affairs Ministers in November 2016 (to run until the end of 2018).73

10.3The UK’s decision to leave the EU will inevitably have implications for the UK’s involvement in the Operation — given that it will leave the Common Foreign & Security Policy when it ceases to a Member State — and by extension the in-kind support it provides as Operational HQ. In December 2016, just after the Operation was last extended, the Government said that “it is not yet possible to ascertain what the shape of the operation, its viability, or that of UK participation, would look like in the future. In the meantime, […] the UK remains committed to the continued success of Operation ATALANTA and the use of the OHQ facilities at Northwood”. The Operational Commander gave evidence to the House of Lords in February 2018, when he said that “the contribution that [the UK] as the framework nation have made to Atalanta is key”.

10.4When the draft Withdrawal Agreement was published on 19 March 2018 it was confirmed that the UK would be relinquishing the Operational HQ function when it leaves the EU. Article 124(7) of the provisional Agreement — which is shaded in green, indicating the Government’s acceptance — provides that after 29 March 2019 “the United Kingdom shall not provide commanders of civilian operations, heads of mission, operation commanders or force commanders for missions or operations […], nor shall it provide the operational headquarters for such missions or operations”.

10.5In June 2018, the European External Action Service (EEAS) circulated a draft Council Decision to give effect to this change. The legal act would result in the move of the OHQ from Northwood to the Spanish Naval Headquarters in Rota; the appointment of a new (as yet to be designated) Operational Commander, since the incumbent in British; and the move of the EU’s Maritime Security Centre for the Horn of Africa74 from Northwood to the French Naval Headquarters in Brest. This new structure was chosen over a rival bid by Italy to host both the Operational HQ and the Maritime Security Centre. The draft Decision also confirms an extension of the mission’s mandate until at least December 2020.

10.6The Minister for Europe (Sir Alan Duncan) submitted an Explanatory Memorandum on the proposal to prepare Operation Atalanta for Brexit on 28 June 2018. This reiterates that the Government accepted the requirement for the Operational Headquarters to be moved away from the UK, which the Minister says he does “not expect this […..] to have any impact on the operation”. With respect to continued UK participation in the Operation — and the Common Security & Defence Policy more generally — the Memorandum states:

“The UK remains committed to European security and will remain so after we leave the EU. Operation Atalanta has been a tangible demonstration of the UK’s commitment to the Common Security & Defence Policy (CSDP); UK leadership and command of the operation has been instrumental in its success. The UK will be able to contribute to the mission during the Implementation Period for the 20 months from 29 March 2019 as we will still be considered a Member State for the purposes of the CSDP. But the terms of any UK participation during the Implementation Period would require negotiation. Participation in [Operation Atalanta], and other CSDP missions, thereafter would require the negotiation of a Framework Participation Agreement with the EU.”

10.7The proposed Council Decision now shows that the EU is formally preparing to move the Operational Headquarters for the Operation from the UK to Spain and France by March 2019. As such, we consider this proposal politically important and draw it to the attention of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees, which may wish to consider it further in the context of any future inquiries into the parameters of UK involvement in the Common Foreign & Security Policy after Brexit (including during the post-Brexit transitional period).

10.8We now clear the proposal from scrutiny, to enable it to be adopted by EU Foreign Affairs Ministers on 16 July 2018. The Committee will continue to follow closely the discussions with the EU on a future security and defence agreement, and how this might affect the operation of the UK’s foreign policy once it is no longer formally part of the Common Foreign & Security Policy.

Full details of the documents

Council Decision amending Joint Action 2008/851/CFSP on a European Union military operation to contribute to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast: (39939), 10567/18.

Previous Committee Reports


72 In April 2010 the EU further intensified its efforts to provide stability in the region by launching a military training Mission for Somali defence forces (EUTM Somalia). Its purpose is to strengthen the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the institutions of Somalia by providing strategic advice to the Somali Ministry of Defence and National Armed Forces on security sector development, including on personnel management, strategic planning and defence-related laws.

74 The Maritime Security Centre provides 24-hour monitoring of vessels transiting through the Gulf of Aden, working in close cooperation with the UK’s Maritime Trade Organisation, the Royal Navy’s Dubai-based 24-hour reporting centre.

Published: 17 July 2018