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Analysis

Brexit will leave UK as follower, not leader, on world stage

by Luke Lythgoe | 16.02.2018

Whatever Theresa May promises in Munich, cooperation with the EU on security, defence and foreign policy will not be as “deep and special” after Brexit.

The prime minister will call for the UK to stay within the European Arrest Warrant and the EU’s police agency Europol, according to reports. She also wants to keep our access to EU intelligence databases, such as the cross-border Schengen Information System and Passenger Name Records for airline passengers. These are some of the most important tools in the international fight against cross-border crime and terrorism.

This is easier said than done. Norway and Iceland, two non-EU countries, began talks on an agreement with the EU similar to but not as good as the European Arrest Warrant in 2001 – the deal they struck still hasn’t been ratified by all member states.

Both countries do have access to EU databases. But they also accept ultimate oversight by the European Court of Justice – a big red line for Tory Brextremists. Meanwhile, the UK can probably get observer status in agencies such as Europol, as other third countries such as Australia and the US have. But we wouldn’t get a vote on decisions. That’s a big demotion from our current position, where the head of Europol is a Brit.

May will also struggle to keep Britain’s leading role in European defence policy. Sure, we bring a lot to the table: one of two EU countries with a nuclear deterrent; one of only five to spend 2% of GDP on defence; and one of only two with a veto at the United Nations’ Security Council. We also play a key role in EU missions including those combating piracy off the Horn of Africa and people smuggling in the Mediterranean.

And yet it is unlikely the EU would let a country that had left the club have a say on the direction of its defence strategy – even though Brexiters such as Boris Johnson have swung in behind the idea that that Europe needs more defence cooperation, a thought that used to drive them mad. This means Brexit will probably weaken both the UK’s and EU’s global strength, the Rusi defence think-tank warns.

The UK also won’t have the same central role in EU foreign policy, as we had with sanctions against Russia over Ukraine and the Iran nuclear deal. And if we have less power in Europe, we won’t be taken so seriously on the world stage. This is bad news in an increasingly unstable world, with an unreliable ally in Trump’s America, the rise of China, and dangers on Europe’s borders.

May will no doubt paint a picture of British might in Munich. In fact, Brexit will make us less able to protect our citizens and less able to project our values of freedom, peace, rule of law and democracy. That’s bad for the UK, bad for Europe and bad for the world.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that Norway and Iceland’s deal with the EU is not the same as the European Arrest Warrant and that it has not yet come into force.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Brexit will leave UK as follower, not leader, on world stage”

  • Given the current state of affairs in Britain, should we really be attempting leadership on the world stage? That would require a sense of goodwill to other nations, logical thinking and ability to negotiate, and a pursuit of the common good, I think. At the moment, our scores are quite low, it seems.

  • Out scores would improve vastly if Brexit were stopped, in fact having defeated Brexit we would be in a stronger position to resume a leadership role, advising on how to deal with populism in Hungary and Poland