12 Sep 2017

Defence and security – bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations?

When Theresa May first pondered the Tory leadership there was talk that she had long since gamed the need for putting both EU citizens’ rights and our defence profile into the mix in Brexit talks as bargaining chips.

She went public on the former in the opening speech of her leadership bid and on the latter in the Article 50 letter handed over to the European Commission in March.

Today the Government published its latest thoughts on how the UK’s defence and foreign affairs profile fits in with Brexit.

It spells out that the UK is “unconditionally committed to maintaining European security” but you come away feeling that the “bargaining chip” element in this relationship has not completely gone away.

The document spells out the UK’s massive comparative weight in defence and security matters compared to the average of the other 27 EU states and then says some of these treasures “could” be shared with those staying in the EU.

There could be exchanges of military and security experts, shared consular facilities and sharing of classified information.. The possibility that some of the UK overseas aid budget carries on being  spent through the EU after Brexit is raised. Contributions to the European Defence Fund are amongst other post-Brexit carrots floated in the document.

What might open the door to such cooperation? With the “threat” element now downplayed you get one sniff of the quid pro quo: Paragraph 74 (p19) talks of how friction-less customs arrangements and open markets are needed for the UK defence industry to thrive.

Meanwhile, back in the House of Commons, the amendments are pouring in for the EU Withdrawal Bill. Some 9 to 12 Tory MPs have signed up to a series of amendments. The most interesting of them turns the “deal or no deal” vote which the government conceded MPs would have at the end of the negotiation process into something much more substantial. It would give MPs the chance to write their own negotiating position (just at the moment when the Government would like to present them with no real choice at all, right at the end of the talks).

But these Tory rebels are not using this moment to paint that picture of a future deal. They don’t sound tempted to vote for the Single Market right now or for a second referendum. The other amendments tend to try to put in safeguards against the fast-track powers the Bill would give the Government for the copy and paste exercise in putting EU law into UK law.

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