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Brexit and Security

Brexit and Security

By Anand Menon (Director, UK in a Changing Europe)

Brexit, we’re told, means Brexit. But of course Brexit could mean a variety of things. Amidst the uncertainty, one thing is clear. To date, the debate has focused on the economics. The notions of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ Brexit are defined in terms of different relationships with the single market. Security issues, in contrast, are rarely mentioned.

All of which is troubling, in several respects. First, the focus on economics looks set to continue. What with the need to negotiate an article 50 deal, to negotiate a trade deal with the EU, to sort out a tariff schedule, to hire customs inspectors, to sign trade deals with other countries and to figure out how to deal with regulatory functions previously carried out by the EU (to name but a few of the outstanding issues) politicians and civil servants will have little time for trivia such as security.

There is a real danger, then, that consideration of how the UK should continue to work with its European partners in areas such as defence procurement, peacekeeping, intelligence sharing and counter terrorism will be pushed, as the saying goes, ‘to the back of the queue’. Serial repetition of the phrase ‘global Britain’ hardly amounts to a foreign policy strategy.

Ironically, of all the parts of the EU puzzle, security could be one of the easiest to solve. Because large parts of the Union’s foreign and security policies are intergovernmental, devising ad hoc forms of cooperation should be relatively simple. Where it is not, bilateral agreements may do the trick, or, failing that, coordination within NATO.

What is needed is a broad, strategic assessment of what Britain should aim for, followed by negotiations with our partners. This does not seem to be what is happening. Rather, the resolute focus on the economics means that security issues are viewed in purely tactical terms. Thus, there is talk of using Britain’s ‘security surplus’ as a bargaining chip to be ‘traded’ in return for commercial concessions in the post-Brexit settlement with the EU.

This is a dangerous way of thinking. For one thing, it risks simply antagonising our partners. Using the prospect of, say, Russian aggression, as some kind of negotiating leverage will not go down well in other capitals. ‘Our tariffs for your territorial integrity’ is not a good look.

Moreover, the focus on the short term and the tactical comes at the expense of the long term and the strategic. Europe faces a period of profound insecurity as instability in its neighborhood shows no signs of diminishing. Even prior to the referendum, Britain’s approach to European security was in need of a drastic overhaul. Now, with the institutional setting of that approach also in doubt, the need for clear thinking is greater than ever. Sadly, there does not seem to be much of it about.

Anand Menon is Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at Kings College London. He also directs the Economic and Social Research Council Initiative on the UK in a Changing Europe. He has held positions at Sciences Po, Columbia University and NYU. He has written on many aspects of contemporary Europe including the EU and European security. He is co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of the European Union (OUP, 2012) and author, amongst other things, of ‘Europe: The State of the Union (Atlantic Books 2008). @anandmenon1