The Brexit threat to Bri­tish se­cu­rity

Per­haps the re­cent at­tack on a for­mer Rus­sian agent in a quiet English coun­try town will be enough to show Brex­i­teers that a “Bri­tain alone” is a “Bri­tain vul­ner­a­ble.” But it is also pos­si­ble that by the time UK na­tion­al­ists dis­card their ide­o­log­i­cal blin

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents -

Some mo­ments in his­tory are steeped in irony. To glimpse a cur­rent ex­am­ple, look no fur­ther than the United King­dom. As the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Euro­pean Union ap­proach a tip­ping point – this month’s (March) Euro­pean Coun­cil meet­ing – the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment is seek­ing its scorned Euro­pean part­ners’ help in its dis­pute with Rus­sia over the at­tempted mur­der of the for­mer Rus­sian dou­ble agent Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter in Sal­is­bury, Eng­land.

But even be­fore the brazen at­tack on the Skri­pals – tar­geted with the Sovi­et­de­signed nerve agent Novi­chok – Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May had be­come more forth­right in high­light­ing the val­ues and in­ter­ests shared by the UK and the EU, in­clud­ing with re­gard to se­cu­rity and de­fence. In­deed, at last month’s (Fe­bru­ary) Mu­nich Se­cu­rity Con­fer­ence, she pro­posed a “deep and spe­cial part­ner­ship” on such mat­ters.

In May’s pre­ferred sce­nario, the UK would con­tinue to par­tic­i­pate fully in EU agen­cies like EUROPOL, while up­hold­ing

Euro­pean Ar­rest War­rants (EAWs). More­over, the UK would main­tain its in­volve­ment in ex­ist­ing and fu­ture EU Com­mon Se­cu­rity and De­fence Pol­icy (CSDP) mis­sions, and co­or­di­nate with the EU on sanc­tion regimes un­der the Com­mon For­eign and Se­cu­rity Pol­icy (CFSP).

The at­tack on the Skri­pals has surely re­in­forced May’s in­ter­est in en­sur­ing strong se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion af­ter Brexit. The kind of ex­ter­nal threat that the at­tack rep­re­sented is best ad­dressed in co­op­er­a­tion with al­lies. But can the UK’s al­lies take May se­ri­ously?

Those “who threaten our se­cu­rity,” she said in Mu­nich, “would like noth­ing more than to see us frac­tured... and to see us put de­bates about mech­a­nisms and means ahead of do­ing what is most prac­ti­cal and ef­fec­tive in keep­ing our peo­ple safe.” Then, af­ter re­it­er­at­ing that the UK had made a le­git­i­mate and demo­cratic de­ci­sion to leave the EU, she con­cluded that the ball is the EU’s court. Not to ac­cept her gen­er­ous of­fer of close se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion would, in her words, amount to putting “po­lit­i­cal doc­trine and ide­ol­ogy” first.

The irony of May’s stance has not been lost on the 27 EU states that the UK is leav­ing be­hind. Af­ter all, by cast­ing doubt on the unity of Europe – and, in­deed, the en­tire West – Brexit it­self is caus­ing se­ri­ous dam­age to Euro­pean se­cu­rity, all for the sake of po­lit­i­cal doc­trine and ide­ol­ogy.

To be sure, hard­line Brex­i­teers like Trade Min­is­ter Liam Fox claim that the only ex­ter­nal re­la­tion­ship the UK needs to but­tress its se­cu­rity is NATO, led by the United States. Yet while NATO will ob­vi­ously re­main the para­mount source of se­cu­rity for all of Europe, no one should be will­ing to en­trust their se­cu­rity to US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who seems to have more con­tempt for al­lies than for ad­ver­saries like Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin. As the in­tel­li­gence chiefs of Bri­tain, France, and Ger­many warned in a lit­tleno­ticed joint state­ment re­leased in Mu­nich, any break­down in se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the UK and the EU will have dire con­se­quences.

But May can­not ex­pect to main­tain the UK’s cur­rent level of se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion with the EU, es­pe­cially in the con­text of the oth­er­wise “hard” Brexit she en­vis­ages. When the UK de­parts from the EU, it will lose its right to shape the in­sti­tu­tional frame­works that have long but­tressed its se­cu­rity. This leaves May with two choices: ei­ther she can leave those frame­works be­hind – a highly risky move – or she can ac­cept, at least for the most part, the EU’s terms.

For ex­am­ple, the le­gal frame­work for se­cu­rity-re­lated data must also cover com­mer­cial data. If the UK can tol­er­ate giv­ing ju­ris­dic­tion in this area to a Euro­pean high court, as May’s Mu­nich speech seems to sug­gest, why not in other ar­eas? The Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice has an im­pec­ca­ble rep­u­ta­tion as an in­de­pen­dent ju­di­cial body – one that has fairly de­fended the UK’s own in­ter­ests many times.

Such an ap­proach would gen­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant good­will in the ne­go­ti­a­tions. This, to­gether with the UK’s con­sid­er­able se­cu­rity-re­lated as­sets and ex­per­tise, would cre­ate space for the coun­try to carve out unique con­ces­sions from the EU, such as full-time ob­server sta­tus in the EU’s in­flu­en­tial Po­lit­i­cal and Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee.

Whether or not such forms of co­op­er­a­tion – es­sen­tial to en­sur­ing se­cu­rity in both the UK and the EU – are re­al­ized, how­ever, is far from cer­tain. Though May now seems to hold a more re­al­is­tic view of the se­cu­rity risks Brexit poses, oth­ers in her party re­main ob­sti­nate.

For ex­am­ple, Owen Pater­son, a for­mer Con­ser­va­tive cab­i­net min­is­ter, re­cently sug­gested do­ing away with the Good Fri­day Agree­ment, which has de­liv­ered two decades of peace to North­ern Ire­land – a highly reck­less state­ment, given the po­lit­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties that the Brexit vote trig­gered in Ire­land. Other Brex­i­teers, like En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Michael Gove, are also long-time scep­tics of the Good Fri­day ac­cords. This sug­gests that, in the eyes of Brexit ide­o­logues, se­cu­rity must take a back seat to their na­tion­al­ist dreams.

Per­haps the re­cent at­tack on a for­mer Rus­sian agent in a quiet English coun­try town will be enough to re­move the ide­o­log­i­cal blin­ders from more Brex­i­teers, show­ing them that a “Bri­tain alone” is a “Bri­tain vul­ner­a­ble.” But it is also pos­si­ble that by the time the UK’s cit­i­zens and lead­ers see Brexit from their al­lies’ per­spec­tive – as a self­ish and de­struc­tive act of be­trayal – it will be too late.

Charles Tan­nock is a mem­ber of the for­eign af­fairs com­mit­tee of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. Copy­right: Project Syn­di­cate

The at­tack on the Skri­pals has surely re­in­forced May’s in­ter­est in en­sur­ing strong se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion af­ter Brexit.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May shak­ing hand with Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Jean-Claude Juncker in Brus­sels

Mem­bers of the fire bri­gade in green bio­haz­ard suits work to re-at­tach the tent over the bench where a man and a woman were found in crit­i­cal con­di­tion in Sal­is­bury, south­ern Eng­land

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