12 September 2017

The UK Government has today published its latest “future partnership paper”, which addresses the topics of foreign policy, defence and development. It is a comprehensive and useful summary of the Government’s assessment of EU cooperation in these fields so far and how this promotes shared UK-EU interests. It also details the UK’s extensive contribution to European security to date.

The document is clearly intended to convey the UK’s continued commitment to European security and its desire that EU efforts in these areas succeeds. The Foreign Secretary used an article for The Times to state that “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.” Boris Johnson notes that the UK’s “unconditional commitment is incarnated primarily by Nato” but he and the paper note the various ways – sanctions, anti-piracy missions, development aid – in which the UK and the EU currently cooperate.

This is all part of an important diplomatic effort to stress the importance of the EU relationship to the UK and that it this bond runs deeper and wider than trade. This is helpful background noise ahead of Theresa May’s set-piece Brexit speech later this month, which presumably will be designed to persuade EU leaders to progress the negotiations from withdrawal to a transitional agreement and future partnership sooner rather than later.

However, the paper’s section on what the UK envisages as the framework for the “new, deep and special partnership” is light on proposals, or even potential options for discussion.

Implicit in the paper – and Brexit – is that the UK no longer will be party to either the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) or Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The paper suggests the UK and the EU should have “regular close consultations” on foreign and security policy issues in the future but does not suggest what the forum for this might be. Likewise, the paper suggests the UK could make a “continued contribution to CSDP missions and operations” but there is nothing more on how this might operate in practice. Given that it is difficult to imagine the UK agreeing to contribute to EU missions that it has had no input in designing or planning, what mechanism does the UK envisage that would allow it to contribute?

On international development, the paper states that:

…the UK shares a commitment with the EU to eradicate extreme poverty and help build prosperity, peace, stability and resilience in developing countries. In support of these values, the UK will continue to use its international development budget through its international development partnerships…

However, how the EU might continue to be an “international development partner” for the UK remains rather vague.

Perhaps now is not the right time and this paper is not the right place, but the UK ought to be able to come up with some interesting practical proposals in this area. As the paper details very clearly, the UK potentially has a lot to offer the EU in all of these areas, which could provide leverage in the wider negotiations. In her Lancaster House speech, the Prime Minister was unfairly criticised for making security cooperation a bargaining chip. This is an area in which she said she wanted the UK and the EU to “work together more” in the deep and special partnership she is proposing. The EU might not be interested but the onus is on the UK to put them on the table.