On Wednesday [28 November] the government published their ‘Assessment of the security partnership’ – that is to say, of that part of the Political Declaration which covers police and judicial cooperation, foreign policy, security and defence.
The assessment is that it is better than nothing – that May’s deal is preferable to no deal. Under May’s deal we get a transition period.
We also get the chance to work out what the ‘future security partnership’ will actually amount to – to pursue negotiations with the EU on just how to cash the vague promises ‘to consider further’, ‘to work further to identify the terms for the UK’s cooperation’, ‘to consider whether and how the UK could contribute’, and so on.
What the assessment does not do is compare what the government is selling with what we currently have, as a member of the EU. No wonder. For the outcome of two years of negotiation over the future security relationship is deeply disappointing.
London’s going-in assumption was that the EU would share its own assessment of the UK as too important a security player to treat post-Brexit as though it was any other, run-of-the-mill, “third country”.
The EU must surely be aware of how much it would lose – Britain’s powerful military, global diplomatic clout, large development budget and exceptional intelligence capabilities – if it did not offer the UK a uniquely privileged partnership.
Yet the EU has not done so. So, reading between the lines of the Political Declaration, we are set to lose access to the key Europol and criminal records databases, and to the European Arrest Warrant – real blows to our ability to combat terrorism and organised crime.
Instead of a continuing role in shaping EU foreign and defence policies, we will be periodically consulted, like other non-members.
And the disagreeable shock over our future relationship with the Galileo space project has been a foretaste of the problems our defence and aerospace industries will face in a post-Brexit world.
It is not all gloom. Cyber security is one area where the EU is evidently keen to keep us clutched in. Some internal security databases (Passenger Name Records, Prum) will still be open to us.
But, overall, what is taking shape is a future relationship with the EU that will leave us less safe and less influential – and probably damage the EU’s security as well.
Why has it come to this? After all, the Prime Minister went out of her way to emphasise the UK’s ‘unconditional commitment’ to European security; why has the EU not reciprocated? Are they just determined to punish us, even if it means cutting off their own nose?
A number of factors are at play. Upsettingly, those continentals just do not think we are as good as we think we are.
We may brag about our military; but they observe that in practice we have obstructed rather than helped European defence efforts. We have not always put in to the security databases as much as we have taken out.
Hard-nosed commercial interests are also at play, with European defence and aerospace companies all too ready to see the Brits marginalised over time.
Mainly, though, it is a matter of technical and legal impossibility for the EU to start carving out sweet-heart deals for one or other non-EU partner, no matter how important. As Michel Barnier has repeatedly said, actions have consequences: you leave the EU, and you lose access to all manner of mutually beneficial cooperations.
Like so many other aspects of Brexit, the real assessment of the “future security partnership” is that, compared with the UK’s current EU membership, it will damage the interests of both parties for no good reason.
By Nick Witney, senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.