EU – UK cooperation on foreign policy, security and defence is one of the most strategic issues at stake in the Brexit process, and the EU is committed to ensuring as close a cooperation as possible post 2019. Addressing an audience of ambassadors, experts and journalists on 14 May, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier stressed that it is impossible to separate the security and defence interests and policies of the EU and the UK, and that the clear interests of our governments and peoples pointed to strong cooperation in the future.
“Britain is part of Europe and this will not change.” In today’s world and faced with a plethora of global threats from terrorism to cyber-attacks to war in our neighbourhood, “isolation cannot work”, Mogherini said. “The security of the United Kingdom is our own security. And the security of the European Union is the security of the United Kingdom. There are bonds that cannot be broken. Politics may change, but some realities do not change”.
Given this strong mutual interest and inter-dependence, Barnier warned against using security and defence policies and capabilities as chips in the Brexit and future agreement negotiation processes: “Security is not to be negotiated. Any trade-off between security and trade would lead to a historic failure - and it would be a strategic mistake, benefiting those who seek to weaken us”.
With this in mind, the EU is keen to ensure the strongest possible channels of communication, exchange of information and cooperation to discuss and coordinate foreign and security policy.
Mogherini called for a consultation mechanism with the UK to coordinate responses to international events, positions within international organisations, and actions, whenever the objectives align. She furthermore expressed her conviction that the UK will maintain a strong interest in taking part in EU military and civilian missions, contributing to our collective security, in Europe and beyond.
The future relationship between the EU and the UK in the field of security and defence, as with all other fields, remains at present open however and subject to new agreements that are yet to be discussed and agreed.
“In choosing to leave the EU, the UK has chosen to leave 750 international agreements, including security agreements such as that governing Gallileo,” said Barnier. New frameworks for cooperation are possible and highly desirable, but need to be negotiated and agreed by both parties, explained the Chief Negotiator.
The EU has no ambition to be difficult or to “punish” the UK, said Barnier, but we must respect the British decision to leave our Union and any new relationship needs to be in alignment with the EU’s rules. “There is no ideology” behind this approach, Barnier stressed, “but the EU works on rules” - rules the UK itself has been instrumental in shaping, he added.
In this new relationship, the EU will seek to be as open as possible to cooperation with the UK. The relationship cannot however be as close as it currently is with the UK as an EU Member State. There are no “half-members” of the EU or members “ad honorem”, said Mogherini. Unlike the UN, the EU has no “observer” status either. “Either you are a member or you are not.”
“The UK will not have the same rights as EU Member States,” elaborated Barnier. “It will no longer participate in the decision-making of the EU. It will no longer have the ability to shape and lead the EU's collective actions. British entities will no longer have the same rights as EU entities. These are the legal mechanical consequences of Brexit,” he said.
While the relationship will certainly be “radically different”, Mogherini stressed that “it can still be constructive.” The UK will not have a seat at table for decision-making, but it will certainly be a close friend and strategic partner. “They will be welcome to join in EU missions and operations,” said Mogherini, noting that the EU already has Framework Participation Agreements with eighteen countries around the world to this end. Equally, once the EU has agreed on how to work with partners for the development of military capabilities (within the framework of permanent structured cooperation between Member States), the UK will be welcome to participate in these projects.