Documents to download

Despite their inclusion in the October 2019 Political Declaration on the future UK-EU relationship, at the request of the British Government foreign policy and defence cooperation were not part of the subsequent future relationship negotiations. Instead of a treaty-based or institutional framework, the Government indicated its preference for a flexible, ad-hoc approach to foreign policy and defence cooperation, “within a framework of broader friendly dialogue and cooperation between the UK and the EU”.

Formal foreign and defence policy cooperation does not, therefore, form part of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) reached at the end of December 2020. As of 1 January 2021 CFSP and CSDP provisions no longer apply to the UK.

The preamble of the TCA refers, however, to the two parties’ recognition of “the importance of global co-operation to address issues of shared interest”.  The Common Provisions of the TCA also refer to a number of common principles with an international dimension, such as democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and the need for cooperation and coordination within multinational institutions.

Foreign Policy Cooperation

After transition, the UK no longer has to support agreed EU foreign policy (CFSP) positions and there is now no official framework in place through which the UK and EU can develop and coordinate joint responses to emerging foreign policy challenges.

Instead the UK envisages an ad hoc approach that makes use of channels of “broader dialogue” with the EU. How this will actually work in practice is not yet clear. It also raises the question of whether UK-EU foreign policy cooperation will become much more reactive, precipitated by the need to respond to a specific threat or challenge, as opposed to a more strategic, long-term and proactive approach.

Outside of the EU framework, the UK is likely to make use of its bilateral and multilateral diplomatic networks and its membership of, and participation in, international fora such as the UN, G7, G20, OECD and WTO, among others, in order to pursue its foreign policy objectives.

The Government’s forthcoming Integrated Review is expected to provide more detail on the UK’s approach to foreign policy cooperation going forward.

Defence Cooperation

Successive British Governments have stated that NATO is the cornerstone of European defence and security, supported by a strong network of multilateral and bilateral alliances and partnerships of which the UK is a participant. From the UK’s perspective the EU has been a notable “soft power” actor, focusing on crisis prevention, crisis management and post-conflict stabilisation. Greater defence cooperation within the EU has always been viewed as complementary to NATO and a means of strengthening the European pillar of that Alliance.

Post-Brexit the UK is likely to continue this approach. “Hard” power will continue to be the purview of NATO or “coalitions of the willing”; while any shortfalls in soft power projection, previously achieved through EU initiatives, could be compensated for through other bilateral or multilateral frameworks. Defence cooperation could be pursued through arrangements such as the Anglo-French Lancaster House Treaties, the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, and President Macron’s European Intervention Initiative.

Adopting this approach is also considered more likely given that any cooperation with the EU on defence matters will now be subject to strict rules on third country participation.

The future of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy  

Historically the UK has been one of the main driving forces behind the development of CSDP. It has the largest defence budget among EU Member States and has contributed, in the past, approximately 20 per cent of the EU’s force catalogue. As such, it has been suggested that, without the UK’s support, the strategic ambition of a “common European defence” could ultimately falter and the EU’s strategic autonomy will remain at the “soft power” end of the military spectrum.

However, as the main source of opposition to integrationist proposals, the absence of the UK from CSDP decision making has equally been regarded as the opportunity that Member States, such as France and Germany, have been looking for to further the EU defence project, and potentially realise the Maastricht Treaty’s ultimate goal of a “common European defence”.

Going forward the UK will have no say, and no veto, over how EU defence progresses, including on those proposals which the UK has historically opposed such as the creation of an independent operational military planning HQ for EU operations. Progress in such areas is considered inevitable given the political appetite among the EU27 and influential figures such as the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen. 

In order to shape the agenda, or influence policy, and ensure there is no duplication with NATO, the UK will now have to rely heavily on its diplomatic networks and other bilateral and multilateral channels of diplomacy going forward.

Documents to download

Related posts