LONDON: Britain has played one its strongest cards in the EU negotiations by offering to put its defence, security and aid assets at the disposal of the European Union in the hope of getting concessions on future trading and economic relations.
The offer extends to continuing to share embassies with the EU, provide intelligence information and undertake regular joint EU-led military missions.
Issuing its position paper on defence and foreign policy relations with the EU after Brexit, the defence secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, said the UK was not seeking to blackmail the EU by threatening to withdraw security cooperation if it did not get the economic deal it wants.
He told the BBC: “No, this isn’t blackmail, this isn’t a negotiating strategy. What we are doing, and everybody has asked for this, is to set out how we see the new partnership the day after Brexit. We want to fight terrorism together. It’s vital. We are not making threats.”
The tone of the position paper, unlike Theresa May’s Mansion House speech in February, makes no reference to a threatened end to UK defence cooperation, and instead presents its offer as based on the “belief the UK has a historic deep belief in the same values that Europe stands for – peace, democracy, freedom and the rule of law”.
The paper says the UK would like to work with the EU on its defence missions, and help with operational planning and developing their mandate. It also sets out plans for continuing to contribute to the commission’s nascent European defence fund, including the European defence research programme and the European defence industrial development programme.
The move would assuage British defence industry concerns that Brexit will lead to greater Franco-German cooperation, gradually pushing the UK out of major defence markets.
The UK is one of the EU’s premier defence forces, but it has not been the largest contributor to the EU’s common defence and security missions, focusing its spending instead on Nato. It has, however, contributed to all 15 EU defence missions, including combating piracy on the Horn of Africa and migration from Libya.
The level of UK involvement in the planning process for EU military missions should reflect the UK’s contributions, the paper suggests.
Other third parties such as Norway contribute to EU missions, but the Ministry of Defence appears to be proposing a more structural cooperation.
Officials did not rule out a suggestion made by the former former foreign secretary Lord Hague that UK officials should be able to sit on the EU’s political and security committee, its premier decision-making body for EU diplomats and officials. The PSC sits just below the EU foreign affairs council, from which the UK will be excluded once it leaves the EU.
The offers of future cooperation will disturb Eurosceptics worried that the UK is still being dragged towards concepts such as an EU army and wasteful EU aid spending.