Open Britain Background Briefing: The Government’s position paper on ‘Foreign policy, defence and development’


Today the Government published its latest Brexit position paper, Foreign policy, defence and development: a future partnership paper, which can be found here.

Open Britain have conducted a detailed assessment of this paper. We welcome the Government’s recognition of the importance of continued close cooperation on foreign, defence and development policy. However, the paper exposes a number of weaknesses in the Government’s Brexit position:

  1. Long on ambition but short on solutions. As we have become accustomed to with the Government’s position papers, this document fails to put forward any concrete or technical solutions to the mess it is creating through its approach to Brexit.
  2. The risk of no deal. The paper underlines how vital it is that a deal is reached. The Government’s commitment in the paper to retaining close cooperation is an important step but it will not undo the damage done by the Prime Minister’s threat of withdrawing cooperation in the event of no Brexit deal being reached.
  3. Red lines are a limit on what can be achieved. The paper once again highlights how the Government’s red lines on the European Court of Justice, the Single Market and the Customs Union are a major restriction on what can be achieved. 
  4. Contradicts language of the Leave campaign. The paper’s praise for the contribution the EU makes towards security and foreign policy is welcome but it directly contradicts many statements made by the Foreign Secretary and other prominent Leave campaigners during the EU referendum. 
  5. Level of commitment to shared European values. The paper rightly emphasises the ‘shared values’ of the UK and the EU. This has been undermined, however, by a combination of irresponsible rhetoric about our European allies from senior Government Ministers; a lack of realism in the Government’s negotiating positions; the failure to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK; and the perception that the UK Government favours cosying up to President Trump over retaining close ties to the EU. 

Open Britain’s Position:

  • The Government is right to be aiming for the continuation of Britain’s close security partnership with the EU. Any relationship less close than that we enjoy today will damage Britain’s standing in the world and potentially make our citizens, and those in the rest of Europe, less safe. 
  • However, while this paper is long on hopes, it is short on detail. It offers no concrete plans for ensuring our voice is still heard when we are no longer sitting at the European top table. The Government is aiming for an unprecedentedly close deal between the EU and a non-member state, but negotiating that will require clear and detailed proposals.

  • This paper shows the Brexiteers in Cabinet are finally waking up to how important the EU has been in advancing peace and security, and how dangerous severing our ties could be. The Government should therefore immediately drop its absurd threat to leave the European Union with no deal or to withdraw security cooperation.


In Detail:

Long on ambition but short on solutions

“The UK would like to offer a future relationship that is deeper than any current third country partnership and that reflects our shared interests, values and the importance of a strong and prosperous Europe. This future partnership should be unprecedented in its breadth, taking in cooperation on foreign policy, defence and security, and development, and in the degree of engagement that we envisage.”

  • Of course, we should cooperate with the EU on security and foreign affairs. Maintaining our international influence and guaranteeing our national security after Brexit is vital. 
  • But as with so many of the Government’s position papers, this document fails to put forward any concrete or technical solutions to the mess it is creating through its approach to Brexit. Instead, the paper is little more than a lengthy shopping list of demands.

  • Time is running out for the extensive discussions and deep technical proposals that will be required to get anywhere close to properly addressing these issues. The complexity of the issues and institutions touched on in the paper highlights how unrealistic it is to think that an entire new future partnership with the EU can be agreed by October 2018.

The risk of no deal

“The UK and EU partners share a common goal of a safe and secure world. This will continue after the UK’s exit…Promoting our shared values, tackling our shared threats, and maintaining a strong and prosperous Europe will require a deep and special partnership, including on foreign, defence and security, and development engagement.”

  • Open Britain welcomes the newfound commitment of the Foreign Secretary, the Brexit Secretary and others in the Cabinet to close cooperation with the EU on defence and security.
  • However, the Prime Minister’s Article 50 letter earlier this year made veiled threats to end close UK-EU security cooperation if no deal was reached on Brexit, stating: “In security terms, failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation on in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”[1]
  • This was interpreted highly negatively by the EU, and has contributed to a sustained loss of goodwill in the negotiations. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s lead Brexit negotiator, recently stated that there could be no “trade-off” involving security, while other EU sources complained of UK attempts at “gunboat diplomacy.”[2]
  • Open Britain’s view is clear: close UK-EU defence and security cooperation is vital for our safety, and must not be used as a bargaining chip by this Government. Ministers should also immediately rule out the idea of leaving with no deal.

Red lines are a limit on what can be achieved

"UK subject matter experts have been instrumental in developing the EU’s capacity to tackle these threats, and in driving forward the Single European Sky initiative and Europe’s Military Aviation Strategy." 

"[C]ontinuing to work together to develop effective cyber security legislation and international standards, for example on products and encryption, to work collaboratively to promote their adoption in relevant international bodies, and to adopt a mutually consistent, robust public stance to deter harmful activity in cyberspace."

"The UK wants to continue to have close collaboration with the EU on Counter Terrorism and Countering Violent Extremism issues around the globe and in how we work with third countries, where we will continue to have a wide range of shared priorities and objectives.” 

"Open markets and customs arrangements that are as frictionless as possible are important to the continued success of this sector and to ensure that British and European Armed Forces can access

the best war-fighting capability to keep us safe." 

  • The paper points to a number of areas, including aviation, cyber security and counter-terrorism, where it is clear that could retain a much closer relationship if the Government was prepared to drop its red line on the European Court of Justice. 
  • Later, in a section on the defence sector, the paper highlights the necessity of “open markets” and “frictionless” customs arrangements to ensure the best possible future cooperation. Open Britain agrees with this, but we believe the only way this can be achieved is by remaining in both the Single Market and the Customs Union.

Contradicts language of the Leave campaign

“The UK has worked closely with others to tackle shared threats and to enhance European security. The UK has accomplished a significant amount together with our European partners: creating NATO, the world’s most successful defence organisation and the fundamental guarantor of European security; developing a stronger collective European defence effort following the end of the Cold War; building stability in the Western Balkans; helping to deliver the Iranian nuclear deal; responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine; and addressing root causes of migration and instability worldwide.”

  • Open Britain is glad to hear the Government detail some of the many significant foreign policy goals achieved through close UK-EU defence and security cooperation. 
  • However, this directly contradicts many statements made by the Leave campaign during the EU referendum deriding the EU’s contributions to European security, including in some cases by current Government ministers.
  • Current Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, for example, claimed during the referendum that the EU’s foreign policy was to blame for Russia’s aggressive and illegal actions in Ukraine: “If you want an example of EU foreign policymaking on the hoof and the EU’s pretensions to running a defence policy that have caused real trouble, then look at what has happened in Ukraine.”[3]

Shared values

The values we share are historic and deep-rooted in our societies, and the UK will always be an indefatigable advocate for them. They are based on a shared commitment, according to which the UK will work closely with the EU, EU Member States, and its allies around the world to preserve peace and strengthen international security; promote international cooperation; develop and consolidate democracy and the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms – objectives set out in the Treaty on European Union.” 

  • The paper makes ten references to the ‘shared values’ of the UK and the European Union, and it is right for the Government to point this out. However, much of the Government’s behaviour in recent months has alienated our European partners, undermining those very shared values.
  • Ministers have been guilty of irresponsible rhetoric, which has gone down badly in European capitals. For example, Boris Johnson said that European leaders can “go whistle” over the issue of the Brexit divorce payment.[4] He also called on EU leaders to snap out of their “general doom and gloom … and collective whingearama” in reaction to the election of Donald Trump.[5] They have also irritated their EU counterparts by their lack of preparation for negotiations, with EU officials being under the impression that the UK is “not ready for these talks.”[6]
  • By failing to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, the Government have arguably undermined European values, and have certainly missed a golden opportunity to build early goodwill in the talks. Relations have not been helped by Liam Fox describing EU citizens living in the UK as “cards” in a negotiation.[7]