National security through deep co-operation


Serious warnings were made during the referendum campaign about the risks posed by Britain leaving the EU. These predominantly concern UK-EU co-operation over policing and judicial affairs; diplomatic collaboration; intelligence-sharing; and defence and security policy. The referendum result does not render the cautions given invalid, but means ensuring they are not realised is a top priority. To date, the UK Government has provided few assurances on this matter. Indeed, the White Paper described how vital the EU is for UK national security but provided no detail whatsoever on how existing structures would be maintained post-Brexit.

Whether over the application of sanctions; fighting terrorism; the global migration crisis; the security situation in the Middle East; or cross-border crime or piracy, UK-EU collaboration strengthens collective security. Indeed, the UK’s assets in these areas should strengthen our hand in all areas we will be negotiating.

As an EU member the UK has an opt-out on Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) matters but decided to participate in a wide range of areas as these were judged to strengthen our national security. The referendum does not change that judgement or the nature of the threats we face and therefore, as much as is possible, we must continue to participate in these measures.

During the referendum Leave campaigners said security co-operation would continue as it is currently: “operational law enforcement cooperation with our European partners will continue, because it is in everyone’s interests.” They went further to say that leaving “is the safer option … [as] foreign and defence policy will also gain if we vote leave.” The UK Government must now ensure this is true. 

A JHA agreement of unprecedented depth

Concurrently to negotiations over trade, the UK will need to agree measures on security co-operation of unprecedented depth. Past precedents show that non-EU countries are able to negotiate involvement in EU security arrangements and agencies but with more limited participation compared to that of EU Member States. This will not be enough for the UK.

As a priority we must seek continued involvement with the European Arrest Warrant, or an advanced extradition Treaty that would be stronger than that negotiated with Norway and Iceland. Our co-operation with Europol should be close to current arrangements, particularly over direct access to databases and participation in joint cross-border investigations. The EU has given some non-EU states access to the Schengen Information System but in the past this has been for countries which were intending to join the Schengen Area, so the UK will need a bespoke agreement.

Agreements over the exchange of passenger name records, the exchange of financial information over terrorist suspects and access to the European Criminal Records Information System will also be vital.

Wider Security and Defence Collaboration  

The UK’s strength in the world derives from our historic commitment to internationalism, something many will see as having been weakened by our decision to leave the EU. It is therefore vital we reaffirm our commitment to our main defence partners – NATO, the United States and France. The UK should also seek ways of continuing to participate in inter-governmental aspects of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, as RUSI and the Centre for European Reform have argued.

Any fallout from our leaving the EU, whether through weakening our public finances or a decline in our international standing, must not have a harmful impact on our wider defence and security policies. It is vital, therefore, that it does not result in the compromising of either our NATO spending commitments nor our planned investment in international development.