Expert View

May sings EU’s praises in defence and foreign policy

by David Hannay | 13.09.2017

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

About time too might be the first comment on the government’s latest Brexit paper on future cooperation on foreign policy, defence and development. For once a wholeheartedly positive contribution to the negotiations – indeed so positive is it about Britain’s determination to continue working together in these fields that one is left wondering why on earth we are leaving an organisation of which we so warmly approve and with which we are already working so closely and effectively.              

At the very least this paper should do something to erase the negative reaction the Prime Minister aroused when her March letter to Donald Tusk, triggering the Article 50 negotiations, appeared so maladroitly to suggest that cooperation in these fields might be conditional on a good deal being reached on other more potentially contentious areas such as trade. Not a hint of such conditionality now, and rightly so. Conditionality of that sort undermines the whole concept of defence and security cooperation.


So has the government banished totally any read-across to foreign policy and defence cooperation from other parts of the Brexit negotiations? Unfortunately, not entirely. As long as the government goes on repeating its counter-productive mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal that ghost will not be laid. Is it really possible to believe that circumstances in which the government has fallen out with its EU partners over the divorce settlement, over the treatment of their citizens living and working here and ours in other EU member states and over a trade relationship built on better than WTO terms, and pulled the plug on the negotiations, would not have a negative impact on cooperation in other fields? So why not bury that mantra once and for all, using the Prime Minister’s much trailed speech on Brexit to make it clear that an agreed outcome to the negotiations is the only one we are prepared to contemplate?

Of course, all the sweetness and light in this latest paper does rather beg the question of how the “future relationship that is deeper than any current third country partnership and that reflects our shared interests, values and the importance of a strong and prosperous Europe” for which the government has called is actually to be delivered and is to operate. How are decisions to be reached? Who pays? How is this going to be reconciled with the autonomy of the other EU nations? Let us hope that the government and its EU partners approach these nitty-gritty questions in a spirit of goodwill and flexibility and do not allow the present unparalleled outburst of positive thinking to be frittered away.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “May sings EU’s praises in defence and foreign policy”

  • How long can this nonsense go on ? Perhaps Mrs May should be invited to explain again why it is that the UK is proposing to leave the EU ? Everyone accepts that a referendum has taken place on the subject, with the result we know, in spite of the fact that the UK government itself was opposed to leaving the EU. Is it not time for Mrs May to decide to lead the country rather than trying to implement a policy she does not agree with ?

  • If the pros and cons had been explained in full to the population BEFORE the referendum, I’m sure the result would have been completely different !!!