Plans for the UK to reestablish formal foreign and security policy ties with the European Union, frozen during negotiations on a trade deal, may never be revived as the UK’s foreign policy focuses on ties. bilateral relations in Europe and the development of new alliances in India. Pacific and Middle East.
The freeze marks a little-discussed reversal of thinking from the Theresa May era, when the political statement at that time After Britain’s withdrawal, he spoke about negotiating deep cooperation between the UK and the EU.
May herself said at the Munich security conference in 2018: “Europe’s security is our security, and the UK is unconditionally committed to maintaining it. The challenge for all of us today is to find a way to work together, through a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, to sustain the cooperation we have built and further advance in meeting the changing threats we face together. . “
The EU even published proposals on how this cooperation could work in detail, but the UK has not picked up the ideas.
The UK’s change from the May era has not been formally announced by either side and its implications have been little discussed.
For the EU, as it tries to integrate its own foreign policy, the fear must be that Britain could undermine its foreign policy rules, in the same way that it fears that the UK will diverge on trade standards. But diplomats in Britain believe that the UK after Brexit has already shown independence of judgment and quick feet, compared to the EU, where cumbersome decision-making requires all 27 EU foreign ministers to agree. agreement. The downsides of staying away from EU foreign policy are undetectable to conservative Eurosceptics.
So over the past year, the UK has cooperated with the EU on a strictly ad hoc basis, often going its own way on issues like sanctions. For example, in the case of Belarus, the UK (with Canada) issued sanctions against the Minsk regime before the EU (and the US) had agreed on their packages. The EU and the US appeared to have coordinated their respective measures, but the EU measures were later blocked and delayed by Cyprus threatening a veto.
In contrast, the response to the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny led to close coordination by the EU and the UK, modeled after the Skripal case of 2018.
In the case of Turkey’s drilling for gas in the eastern Mediterranean, the EU has introduced some sanctions and may introduce more in March, while Britain has stayed low, not wanting to offend either side. While France and Turkey exchanged insults, and Germany mediated, the UK outside the EU has been free to withdraw, perhaps thinking about the trade deal it is seeking with Turkey.
In Libya, where the UK was instrumental in the 2011 revolution, it has recently stood on the sidelines watching EU criticism of Turkish violations of the UN arms embargo, and letting the EU control migrants. that cross the Mediterranean to Spain and Italy. On some issues, the past year has shown an advantage in diplomatic discretion.
The main European forum in which the United Kingdom participates continues to be E3: Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Here, at least in public, Europe’s great powers have kept abreast of the Iran nuclear deal, resisting pressure from the United States to declare the deal broken and place the Iranian nuclear default further into the dispute resolution mechanism, a means by which the deal could be declared dead.
E3 has also increasingly coordinated on Iran’s human rights violations and, at the political director level, has debated broader issues, including Russia. But in Ukraine, only the UK has offered a defense and political partnership with Kiev.
In general, the EU’s plans for institutionalized cooperation appear dead, or at least inactive. Rosa Balfour, director of Carnegie Europe, in a brochure from the foreign policy center, suggests: “The EU must, for now, give up the hope that the UK will participate in any institutionalized arrangement. The British government’s foreign policy is ideologically driven; EU action is strongly process-driven. The gap between the two is one of the causes of Brexit. “
UK diplomats look at the foreign policy agenda by Josep Borrell, EU representative on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and go back. His call for a larger majority of votes in foreign policy through “constructive abstention”, as the EU uses the language of power, is not attractive to the UK. Similarly, in the eyes of the British, the contrast between Emmanuel Macron’s call for a stronger united Europe and unilateral French foreign policy reveals the farce of integrated foreign policy.
In reality, the EU’s foreign policy has too often resembled the coalition of the reticent. But some policy makers say the foreign policy debate between the EU and the UK will reignite, if only because of three deep countervailing forces.
The mundane reality may lead the UK to realize that the impact of its foreign policy is multiplied if it works with the EU. The Biden administration would also prefer the UK not to be autonomous, if doing so weakens the EU. Finally, the EU will slowly integrate its defense arm and has already established a way in which third parties, such as the UK, could participate.
Ian Bond from the Center for European Reform can see three ways in which the UK and the EU could formally collaborate: in the exchange and protection of classified information, involving UK personnel in defense missions and operations, and UK involvement in defense. industrial cooperation through the European Defense Agency.
But it may take a dust settling from tense trade talks and a push from Biden for these discussions to begin.
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