UK remains committed to Europe’s collective security

On 14th May Andrew Parker, the Director General of MI5, gave his first public speech outside Britain, in Berlin at a meeting of European domestic intelligence chiefs. The focus of his remarks ranged from the recent Salisbury attack to the ongoing Islamist terrorist threat, but it was his comments at the end on European intelligence and security cooperation that drew the most attention.

Mr Parker devoted a large part of his speech to the breadth and depth of this cooperation, noting that it is “simply unrecognisable to what it looked like even five years ago”. He paid tribute to the work of UK officers across Europe, and that of European colleagues after attacks like the Manchester bombing last year. He also recognised the important work of specific EU systems and arrangements such as the European Arrest Warrant and EUROPOL.

The real purpose of his speech was easy to discern. As the British Government has said repeatedly, ‘the UK is leaving the EU, but not Europe’. Mr Parker mentioned the Prime Minister’s Munich speech in February 2018, in which she called for a new UK-EU treaty on internal security. He then reiterated the UK’s unconditional commitment to Europe’s collective security and asked in turn for the politicians to find a “comprehensive and enduring agreement” that would allow security practitioners across Europe to continue their work unhindered.

Framework for the UK-EU Security Partnership

Only a few days before the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) published its ‘Framework for the UK-EU Security Partnership’. In this, the UK outlined a framework for an ambitious but legal basis for continued cooperation on law enforcement, criminal justice capability and information sharing. The UK also made clear that existing security agreements between the EU and third countries are unsatisfactory role models to copy.

The UK’s public recognition that both sides would lose if the UK ceased to participate in and contribute to the existing toolkits that form the UK-EU security relationship will be welcomed on both sides and by industry as well. British and European defence and security is defined by common challenges, and coordination and cooperation is mutually beneficial. However, it is not yet clear whether the EU will be willing to consider contentious ideas such as a bespoke dispute resolution mechanism. The UK also notably shied away from committing to future membership of EU bodies such as Europol.

EU response

Whether by design or otherwise, Andrew Parker’s speech received an immediate response from the EU in the form of a speech the same day by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. Mr Barnier indicated that the EU is committed to a future security partnership with the UK, given the cross-border nature of the threats, but also that a lot of uncertainty remained about the detail. He stated that the UK will be treated as a third country, and that any new political and legal arrangements would inevitably be a poor substitute for EU membership. Still, Mr Barnier said that the UK and EU should seek to share information on cyber-attack incidents and that a new Security of Information Agreement should be signed between the EU and UK so as to enable the sharing of classified information and intelligence.

The positive words on both sides are welcome, but there is a lot of ground to be covered between the UK’s proposals and the EU’s current stance. Industry will need to see firm commitments from both sides to find new and effective arrangements for security cooperation before it can have full confidence.