British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon says the UK will continue opposing a European Union army as long as it remains a member of the bloc because such an army would undermine the NATO military alliance.
Fallon made the comments while addressing the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, central England.
"Leaving the EU does not mean we are stepping back from our commitment to the security of our continent," Fallon said.
"We will lead in NATO, the cornerstone of our defense, putting troops onto its eastern border next year. But we will go on blocking an EU Army, which would simply undermine NATO."
Major EU countries like Germany and France hope that Britain’s vote to leave the EU, known as Brexit, as well as London's need for goodwill in its Brexit negotiations, will leave the possibility for common military proposals.
At a meeting of EU defense ministers last week in the Slovak capital of Bratislava, Fallon said it was up to NATO, not the EU, to defend Europe against Russia.
During last week’s meeting in Bratislava, Germany, France and Italy proposed to bring together the EU's various military assets, spend more, develop technology and rely less on the United States, which accounts for three quarters of NATO military spending.
But there appeared to be confusion about what was on the table. Fallon insisted he saw the makings of an EU army.
"There are member states who would like to see...a single set of forces. That looks and sounds to me like a European army, and we would oppose that," Fallon told reporters.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who was also at the meeting, urged more debate on strengthening EU military cooperation. "There is no contradiction between a strong European defense and a strong NATO," he said.
Stoltenberg also said EU countries must spend more on military. He said if the UK leaves the European Union, 80 percent of NATO’s budget would be provided by non-EU nations even though most EU members are part of the alliance.
In 2011, the UK and French airstrikes against Libya showed Europe's limits, as they quickly became dependent on a NATO-led operation including the United States and Canada for military know-how, refueling planes and logistics.