Brexiteers don’t understand connections in foreign policy

by David Hannay | 26.03.2016

There are many odd aspects to the way supporters of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU look at the outside world. But few are more unrealistic than their attempts to fit Britain’s external relationships into tight little boxes, none of which, in their view, has any effect on the others.

It is easy to see why they do this. It is important not to admit that EU withdrawal might have some negative impact on the bilateral Anglo-French treaty, providing for British border controls to be operated in France. It is important too to maintain that Anglo-French military cooperation (about external interventions or drones, for example) is purely bilateral and has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that both countries are members of the EU.

It is particularly important to maintain that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU would have no impact on NATO, which is presented as totally separate from the EU, even though most members of both organisations belong to the other. It is important to say that our bilateral relationships with countries all around the world are separate from our membership of the EU and would be enhanced by withdrawal, even though many of their governments are asking us to stay in.

So far, so logical, if you are looking at the world through a eurosceptic prism. But does it correspond to reality? It is hard to make sense of this world view in an era of increasing interdependence, when many of the challenges we face are global ones that require closer, not looser, international cooperation if they are to be mastered. And it does not work at all if those countries with whom they want to work bilaterally do not see things in a similar, compartmentalised way. The hard fact is they do not.

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    Most countries shape their foreign policies, taking account of a whole range of relationships with the rest of the world, multilateral ones as well as bilateral ones. They will weigh up their relationship with a Britain outside the EU in a hard-headed manner, asking such questions as whether our influence is as great now as it was when we were helping to shape EU policies; and whether the market access and investment opportunities we would be offering are as valuable as when we were part of the single market. And if their view is that we have acted in a way which damages organisations that they themselves value highly – such as the EU, NATO and the UN – they will be unlikely to be sympathetic or to promote bilateral relationships in the teeth of such considerations.

    Can we be sure that the French see issues like border controls and security cooperation in the same compartmentalised way as our eurosceptics do when the French government invariably presents Anglo-French cooperation as part of a wider, European picture? Can we be sure that the US is unworried about the effect of Brexit on NATO and on the EU’s willingness to take a tough line with Russia over Crimea and Ukraine, even when from the President downwards they say they are? If the compartmentalisation of foreign policy is indeed a pipedream not shared by others, we had better not put our faith in it when we vote on 23 June.

    David Hannay is a former UK ambassador to the EU and UN. He was involved in Britain’s accession negotiations to the European Economic Community and was Britain’s Permanent Representative in Brussels when the UK helped to draft the Single European Act, which provided the foundation for the Single Market.

    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    Tags: , Categories: Articles, Security

    One Response to “Brexiteers don’t understand connections in foreign policy”

    • The problem with your analysis is your assumption that brexiters don’t want and/or will have reduced cooperation with the wider world or the EU. Also you seem to be under the illusion that what we do with the EU is cooperation. Cooperation is defined as parties working closely together toward common interests. But more importantly they do this because they want to not because they are legally obliged to like under the supranational governance of the EU,where whether a party wants to or not the have to work together because of the treaties they have signed. I call that coercion not cooperation.