Sir Julian King, the man likely to be the United Kingdom’s final European Commissioner, insisted in a Parliament hearing that if MEPs confirmed him in the post his loyalty would be to the European Union rather than Great Britain.
King was put forward as the EU’s new security boss by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker after the resignation of Jonathan Hill in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
The hearing with Sir Julian King took place in the evening of 12 September, ahead of a European Parliament vote that will be held on Thursday over whether to back him.
The Security Union portfolio was created by Juncker after brutal terror attacks in France and Belgium this year and last.
Hill’s influential job as financial services commissioner has passed to Valdis Dombrovskis, the former prime minister of Latvia, who is now responsible for the regulation of the City of London.
“Personally I have always been proud to be British and to be European. I see no contradiction between the two,” King said at his hearing before the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) in Strasbourg.
But King said that the decision of the British people, who voted 52% in favour of Brexit, had to be respected.
“I am not here to defer to or represent the position of the UK Government this evening but I think Prime Minister [Theresa] May has been crystal clear in respecting the results of the referendum,” he said.
King, currently British ambassador to France, spoke French at the beginning of the hearing. He told MEPs, “When the UK leaves, my job here will cease.”
He added, “For avoidance of any doubt, if confirmed I will fulfil my task to best of ability to European interest and nothing but the European interest.
“The only way to defeat criminals and terrorist is by working together.”
Brexit will deprive the EU of a major, nuclear-armed NATO military power with vast counter-terror experience at home and abroad but officials on both sides have stressed that cooperation in security will remain a key priority.
British Eurosceptic MEPs Gerard Batten, of UKIP, demanded how King would serve two masters at the same time, especially as any Commissioner must swear an oath of loyalty to the EU.
“Why on Earth is Britain nominating a Commissioner at all, given that the last one had to resign as his position was untenable?” he asked. “Listening to you this evening sounds very much like business as usual.”
Independent MEP Janice Atkinson, who left UKIP in disgrace after an expenses scandal and joined Marine Le Pen’s Europe of Freedom and Nations Group, added, “You work for us, you don’t work for them.”
King said, “I take the oath very seriously and I will respect and abide by the oath which means I will be completely independent … and I will not seek any instruction from any government on how to fulfil my duties.
“It doesn’t look to me like this is a dossier that is part time of second class. I respect President Juncker’s confidence and I will repay it.”
King risked controversy in Britain by backing EU plans to introduce a travel information and authorisation system. The scheme, which is being designed for countries outside of the Schengen passport-free area, will likely apply to Britain when it enters into force.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd recently refused to guarantee that Brits would not be subject to the system, which could see Brits charged to enter the EU.
“The proposed entry exit system is important to improve effectiveness of border checks,” King said.
If confirmed on Thursday, King will work under the supervision of Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, of the Netherlands, until Brexit.
King was grilled over issues such as online privacy, firearms control, radicalisation and the decision by EU courts to stop a passenger data-sharing deal to fight terrorism on privacy grounds.
“I believe I can make a real contribution,” he said.
King said that he had been in Nice in July when more than 80 people were mowed down by a lorry in an attack claimed by Islamic State.
“I saw for myself the devastating aftermath of the attack … which killed so many people, injured many more and traumatised Europe,” King told MEPs, speaking in French.
King, who has worked for the UK government in Northern Ireland, recalled a series of terrorist atrocities over the 15 years since the 9/11 attacks on the United States which had exacted a deadly toll and required joint action to counter.
“In today’s world, security of one member state is the security of all,” he said. “National security remains the sole responsibility of member states. But they cannot address alone threats which are transnational,” he added.