How post-Brexit Britain can stay engaged with Brussels

first_imgAn emerging question among foreign policy wonks in Britain is whether, following Brexit, the country has enough tools at its disposal to maintain close cooperation with the EU.Westminster politicians on both the right and left are putting forward ideas for better engagement with EU institutions and European capitals.One clear gap seems to be around international sanctions. Without British ministers attending Council of the EU meetings, many believe London lacks a formal mechanism to discuss sensitive foreign policy and security matters, such as potential sanctions targets, on a confidential basis with the bloc.  As a result, the British Foreign Office has increased its reliance on the E3 alliance, which also includes Germany and France. This is in keeping with Boris Johnson’s emphasis on bilateral discussions as opposed to participation in EU forums post Brexit.But according to the opposition Labour Party’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy, sanctions are only effective if done in step with partners. A Labour government would seek to fill that gap by creating a formal structure to agree sanctions with the EU, she told an event on global Britain on Wednesday.Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, supports the idea of a formal mechanism.“Some form of structural engagement with our European partners is not a bad idea,” he said. “The E3 is one but actually I think it could go wider.” He mentioned migrant flows from the Mediterranean and terrorism in North Africa as examples where it would be important to engage with Spain and Italy as well.However, a precondition for close foreign policy cooperation is that the government “recognizes that the EU is a legitimate foreign policy actor, which is qualitatively different from other international organizations,” said Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director of the RUSI think tank, adding this is “likely to be difficult for the current government to accept.”There should also be a program of staff exchanges between the EU’s External Action Service (EEAS) and military staff, and the corresponding ministries and agencies in London, Chalmers added. Such a scheme works well already for France and the U.S. and could help smooth cooperation, he said. A way around dealing with the EU as a whole could be spending more on diplomatic relations with EU capitals, something Tugendhat advocates. The government, in its last spending review covering just one year, allocated an extra £60 million to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) “to support the U.K.’s new relationship with the EU and to maintain and strengthen diplomatic relations with EU institutions and member states.”Britain could also be a more imaginative in upping its diplomatic game. Tugendhat’s committee has proposed placing a minister in Brussels as Britain’s representative, arguing the EU-U.K. relation is fundamentally political not just regulatory.However, Sophia Gaston, director of the British Foreign Policy Group think tank, said such a minister “will be most effective based in Westminster but straddling the [Foreign Office] and the Cabinet Office, to better encapsulate the scope of the U.K.’s interests.”She added that the U.K. should place a renewed emphasis on cultural, knowledge and scientific exchange with Europe. “Our future is intertwined, and we need to develop a sophisticated understanding of the issues that will shape the EU’s future.”This insight is from POLITICO‘s Brexit Files newsletter, a daily afternoon digest of the best coverage and analysis of Britain’s decision to leave the EU available to Brexit Pro subscribers. Sign up here.last_img

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