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Expert View

Brexit is about security too, stupid

by David Hannay | 21.05.2018

As the Cabinet continues to battle over which of two post-Brexit models of UK/EU trade should be put forward in Brussels – neither, incidentally, looking likely to be accepted by the rest of the EU, nor capable of solving the Irish border problem – attention has switched away from the vital issues of internal and external security. And yet at long last, a whole year into the Brexit negotiations, talks on those issues have finally got under way.

A few days ago, with a total absence of publicity (almost as if they were ashamed of it), the government circulated a paper to its 27 EU partners entitled “Framework for the UK/EU Security Partnership”. It sets out the content of what was originally launched last autumn in the prime minister’s Florence speech as a new security treaty.

This fairly astonishing document puts forward a security partnership with the EU which envisages closer cooperation than has actually taken place while Britain has been a full member state, although after Brexit the UK will have no direct say in the decisions the EU takes. It cannot therefore be accused of lacking ambition. Nor is it surprising that it has been quietly sneaked out: its contents are calculated to make a Brexiter’s blood boil.

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So can it be said that we are heading for the softest possible Brexit on these security issues? It is too soon to say. A disobliging speech by Michel Barnier just after the UK paper was circulated does not encourage much optimism. The government’s paper does not address in any effective way three important obstacles which will need to be overcome.

First, the internal security instruments and agencies all cost substantial sums of money financed out of the EU budget. Nothing at all is said about how the UK as a third country would contribute, but payments on a continuing basis to that budget, over and above what has been agreed in the divorce settlement, will certainly be needed.

Second, the crucial issue of dispute resolution – not just between the UK and the EU, but also concerning individual citizens where the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is involved – is glossed over with the meaningless phrase: “There should be a strong and appropriate form of dispute resolution across all the areas of a future partnership”. No mention there of the role of the European Court of Justice which will inevitably have to be involved, since it has jurisdiction over all these EU instruments and agencies.

Last but not least, no reference is made to the fact that, in several member states (Germany in particular), there is a constitutional impediment to extraditing citizens (for example under the EAW) to countries that are not members of the EU.

There is certainly a long way still to go. And every now and then the question arises of why on earth we need to go through all these complexities and contortions negotiating to stay exactly where we are as a member state, but with notably less control over the co-operation which, quite rightly, we believe is essential to both our internal and external security.

Edited by Quentin Peel