The messy divorce between Britain and the EU may result in a number of day-to-day challenges for both parties, but stakes are especially high when it comes to post-Brexit security arrangements.
In an editorial published on Tuesday, the foreign ministers of Poland, Lithuania and Romania voiced a veiled criticism of Brussel’s uncompromising attitude and took a clear stance in favour of close post-Brexit security collaboration.
“Fortunately, it’s not too late to avoid much of the damage,” the op-ed read.
Both sides risk being weakened by zero-sum Brexit negotiations. Britain is likely to lose access to crucial information-sharing systems designed in response to the terrorist attacks that have rocked Europe’s home turf in recent years.
The system was launched in the aftermath of the Berlin Christmas market attack in 2016, when perpetrators used 14 aliases to evade the authorities – prompting calls for swifter information sharing.
Britain has been adamant in its request for post-Brexit police and counter-terrorism cooperation, including the possibility to exchange criminal records with the bloc. France, which has suffered multiple terrorist attacks on its soil, has also been advocating for continued strong security cooperation.
The European Union, however, must show that a country that leaves the bloc cannot have the cake and eat it. Britain cannot be seen to retain the range of defence and security assets that are conditional to EU membership, but cutting off a nuclear power that is guarantor of approximately one-fourth of European defence capabilities is also bound to take a toll on EU foreign policy.
Against this backdrop, Theresa May’s government has been arms wrestling the European Union to secure access to the European arrest warrant (EAW), a system that facilitates the extradition of criminals within the bloc.
In 2015, Hussain Osman, one of the perpetrators of the July 21st failed London bombing attacks on the capital’s transportation system, was arrested in Italy and returned to Britain within a week. Since 2010, Britain extradited over six thousand suspects to other member-states and got 8 suspects back.
“If we were frozen out of ECRIS, [we] may no longer be able to protect the public when dangerous individuals move between the United Kingdom and the European Union,” the then Brexit Secretary David Davis said in June.
ECRIS, the European Criminal Record Information System, allows the exchange of information on criminal convictions among member states. Through it, Britain received on average 78 reports per day – including terror suspects, criminals and missing children found travelling through mainland Europe.
Alongside the issue of access, there may also be an issue of cost. Britain has been the recipient of a fifth of all EU research grants (£8 billion) since 2007, which it will no longer be able to access these resources following its formal break-up from the EU on March 29, 2019.
Security is expensive, and investment is continually required to keep pace with evolving criminal strategies. The European Commission is bound to institute a €13 billion European Defence Fund “to complement and catalyse national expenditure in research and capability development.” But the loss of its biggest military spender – and the only one able of significant intervention in distant combat zones – will impact the EU’s ability to project power.
The EU, however, is not likely to cut all bridges across the Channel. Close post-Brexit cooperation will especially be needed in the Western Balkans and in the development of a common stand towards Russia, as well as in promoting common democratic values in the face of rising populism.
Brussel’s Permanent Structure Cooperation (PESCO) is likely to be one tool of cooperation. A proposal put forward by Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands advocates for opening the EU’s military pact to third countries, including a EU rapid reaction force.
This enhanced cooperation – also referred to as the creation of an “European army” – could reduce the EU's reliance on NATO at a time in which the bloc seeks to thwart US measures and preserve long sought-for policies such as the Iran nuclear deal.