Europe can continue to act as one security block after Britain leaves the EU, according to London’s latest offer of a close European defence partnership after Brexit.
London is pushing for an “indivisible link” with the European security apparatus in upcoming talks with Brussels over the British exit from the EU.
The partnership being proposed goes far beyond anti-terrorism co-operation and mutual defence pacts, to envisage joint military missions overseas and foreign policy alignment.
“With the largest defence budget in Europe, the largest navy, British troops and planes deployed across land, air and sea in Europe, our role in the continent’s defence has never been more vital,” said Sir Michael Fallon, the defence secretary. “As we leave the EU, the UK and our European allies will ensure a close partnership that meets these shared challenges head-on.”
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, outlined British thinking about how Europe could remain in partnership with its former member. “Our fundamental calculation is the same. Britain has global interests and a global foreign policy but our security is indivisibly linked with that of Europe,” he said. “That is why we support a future partnership with the EU of depth and breadth, taking in diplomacy, defence and security.
The position paper strikes a markedly different tone from that chosen by the government when it filed its letter to leave the EU when Downing St was criticised for an apparent readiness to barter over future security cooperation agreements.
It had previously warned Brussels “our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened” by any failure to agree terms on Brexit.
London is now offering important technical concessions including the possibility of “classified information exchange”. The British could also “consider options and models” for participation in the Commission’s European Defence Fund. There is also the potential that the large international aid budget could continue to be contributed into the EU programme.
A reminder of the stakes involved in resetting the European security landscape is playing out in eastern Europe, where Russia’s Zapad military exercises got underway in Belarus. The exercise involves 13,000 troops, and while Russia claims the drills are “purely of a defensive nature”, Mr Fallon said the Kremlin is testing Western European solidarity.
Even non-Nato nations have mobilised in response to the Russian manoeuvres. Sweden started its largest military exercise in more than 20 years with nearly 20,000 troops drilling on air, land and sea, including a contingent of around 1,000 US soldiers. The three-week Aurora 17 drill will chiefly take place around the strategic Baltic Sea island of Gotland and the regions surrounding Stockholm and Goteborg. The rise of military activity throughout the region is also seeing new Nato deployments in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, and war games in Ukraine.
The UK Brexit department announced today that the next round of talks with Brussels will resume on September 25, one week later than initially planned. The talks will restart under something of a cloud, after the Europeans complained the last round had brought “no decisive progress”.