Ever onward, Britain marches toward the door. True, it can sometimes feel like one step forward, two steps back, given that the hour is late and it remains unclear what exactly waits for Britain outside. Nevertheless, Article 50 has been triggered and the UK is leaving in March 2019 (give or take a transition period, backstop, or last-minute extension of negotiations).
One issue that all sides have sought to de-politicise is security. Nobody wants to see the safety of British and European citizens used as a bargaining chip in the negotiations. All parties are committed to ensuring deep and meaningful cooperation on security and defence. Fine words and sentiments. But what, when you get past the reassuring rhetoric, will it actually mean in practice?
Our sister think tank, Friends of Europe, has been publishing a series of reports looking at today’s security challenges from the perspective of different European nations. The reports on Germany and France have already been published, and on 21 June 2018 a new report will come out focused on the UK and Brexit. We have been collecting comments and questions from our readers about the impact of Brexit on security, and we’ve put them to the reports’ author, Paul Taylor, a Senior Fellow at Friends of Europe and Contributing Editor for Politico.
The implications of Brexit for security cooperation in Europe will be one of the many security issues discussed on Debating Security Plus(DS+). In June, Friends of Europe is gearing up to run a global online brainstorm designed to find solutions to today’s security challenges. From 19 June, 09:00 CEST to 20 June 20:00 CEST, the international security community will debate challenges and policy solutions. The discussions will be moderated by leading international think-tanks and organisations that will steer discussions towards concrete recommendations.
So, what do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Vassiliki pointing out that the EU and NATO are separate organisations. The implication is, obviously, that after Brexit the UK will leave the EU but remain a full and committed member of NATO. So, really, why should Brexit have any negative impact on British security and defence at all?
How would Paul Taylor respond?
Well, Vassiliki, NATO certainly is the premier defence organisation for the territorial defence of Europe, and is a very important force multiplier for the UK and a way of ensuring that British forces can inter-operate with the forces of other countries (especially the United States).
However, the fact is that for our daily security, in terms of fighting terrorism, organised crime, money laundering, drug trafficking, and all sort of cross-border threats – including also cybersecurity – that’s really handled much more by EU bodies, by organisations that share databases together; criminal records, fingerprints, records of who enters and leaves the Schengen area, and things like that. And, for that, Britain has to have a working relationship with those agencies.
As of now, what Britain would be getting would be the standard ‘third country’ terms, which means no longer being inside those agencies, no longer being able to access the data directly to trawl and work the data, having to work only through liaison officers as countries such as Norway and Switzerland do. That would be a huge setback.
Of course, Britain is also a major contributor of intelligence and police data into those databases; Britain is a major net extraditer of criminal suspects to its continental partners. All of that could come juddering to a halt unless arrangements are agreed, or at least the current arrangements extended after March 2019. At the moment, they’ve barely even started talking about it, and things are not looking promising.
Next up, we had a comment from Lidija, who argues that, after Brexit, the remaining 27 EU Member States will have a “great interest in continuing to involve [the UK] in foreign policymaking” and security policy. However, she goes on to say that the UK will need to offer concessions if it wants to achieve a deep and meaningful security partnership with the EU. So, what sort of concessions are we talking about?
Well, Lidija, I think that one of the concessions is that where the community institutions are involved and where we’re cooperating with institutions that come under the surveillance and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, we’re going to have to accept that, and that the European Court of Justice’s rules will continue to apply in the UK (perhaps through the figleaf of some joint court or something like that). But, effectively, the rules will continue to be made and jurisdiction made in Luxembourg. So, that’s a big one for Britain to swallow, but I think they’ll have to swallow it. Foreign policy, however, is mostly outside of the community institutions, therefore on most issues the Court of Justice’s jurisdiction does not apply there.
Clearly, if the UK wants to participate in EU programmes, it will have to pay its way in those programmes where it involves a budget; that’s true of the security agencies like Europol, Eurojust, the Schengen Information System (SIS), and so on. Britain may also have to make a financial contribution towards the European Defence Agency if it wishes to have an association agreement with that agency. Then there’s the question of the new nascent European Defence Fund.
It would be hard to imagine that the EU would agree to allow British companies to get European taxpayers’ money from the European budget for research and development projects. So, if and when British companies are selected for those projects, then Britain will have to pay their way. That’s an important part, and I think that’s already recognised in London. But it may be that Britain should go beyond that and offer to make a contribution into the general European Defence Fund itself, in order to have the right to tender for all those contracts. At the moment, the EU lawyers are saying that Britain should at most be allowed to participate by invitation only in individual projects when British companies are recognised to have a particular specialisation which the EU doesn’t have amongst its own Member States. So, that would be a much more restrictive place for Britain…
Will Britain (and the EU) be less safe after Brexit? Or will the two parties be able to do a deal that facilitates deep and meaningful cooperation on security and defence? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts