No-deal Brexit could impact foreign and security policy, Barnier warns

EU Brexit European Commission's Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier speaks during a Committee on Foreign Affairs at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 02 April 2019. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

The EU should prepare for the implications of a no-deal Brexit on the future security partnership with the UK, the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, told the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee on Tuesday (2 April).

Speaking to EU lawmakers only hours after the UK Parliament rejected alternatives to Prime Minister Theresa May’s divorce deal, Barnier said that “as things stand now, the option of no-deal is very likely, I have to be very sincere with you.”

“I don’t want a no deal but we are prepared for it and we need to be prepared for the implications of a no deal for our security partnership,” the Frenchman told the Parliament’s foreign policy experts, addressing the possibility that a no-deal scenario could cause a security cliff edge.

He recalled the five mechanisms from the Political Declaration –  a non-binding document broadly outlining the future EU-UK relations  – that deal with foreign and security policy matters.

A hefty part of the Political Declaration – which was also rejected in the UK parliament – concerns post-Brexit security ties, which “should comprise law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, foreign policy, security and defence, as well as thematic cooperation in areas of common interest.”

According to Barnier, a no-deal scenario would represent a “break in the level of talks, risks in intelligence pooling, applying sanctions regimes. The UK would no longer take part in EU operations, not participate in the European Defence Agency and PESCO [EU cooperation on military projects].”

Major parts of it such as the law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, the rules for cooperation in Europol and Eurojust cooperation, still need to be determined.

Although both sides agreed to create arrangements for “effective and swift data sharing”, Barnier warned MEPs that “we have to make sure that a certain amount of classified information continues to be pooled.”

“The UK will remain a close ally after Brexit”, said Barnier, stressing the need for close cooperation and solidarity in light of threat facing Europe: “The more the UK cooperates with the EU in terms of for example sanctions or military cooperation, the closer and intensive our contact will be.”

The provisions on foreign and security policy of the declaration also open the way for the UK to collaborate in existing and future projects of the European Defence Agency and UK defence companies to participate in projects under the European Defence Fund.

It also opens the possibility of UK collaboration in military projects under PESCO, “where they are invited to participate on an exceptional basis.” The decision on the UK’s future participation as a third country has been postponed until the terms of its exit from the bloc are sorted out, EU diplomats said during the last EU foreign and defence ministers meeting in Brussels.

Barnier also stressed the need for coordination in strategic dialogue regarding common positions in the UN and UN Security Council, the application of sanctions or tackling cyber threats.

‘No deal more likely than before’

Addressing an event in Brussels on Tuesday morning, Barnier said Britain has become more likely in the recent days to crash out of the EU without an agreement.

“Over the last days a no-deal scenario has become more likely, but we can still hope to avoid it,” Barnier said, adding the EU was ready to accept Britain staying in the EU’s customs union or a relationship akin to the one the EU has with Norway.

Barnier also listed three choices London faces before the April 12 leaving date:

Britain could still accept the deal negotiated by May, which Barnier said was “the only way” for Britain to leave the bloc in an orderly way. The other options were the no-deal Brexit or a long delay of the UK’s leaving date.

However, Barnier emphasised that the blame and responsibility for the latter two would lie merely with the British House of Commons, not the EU side.

“During any long extension, there will be no renegotiation of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, no, never,” Barnier told an audience at the European Policy Centre event. “There will be no negotiation about the future relations. We cannot, legally speaking, negotiate with a member state about future relations. It’s as simple as that.”

The chief Brexit negotiator also pointed out that a long postponement of Brexit would entail the need for the UK to hold the European Parliament elections in May and nominate UK representatives for the new European Commission.

“The UK should now indicate the way forward or indicate a plan,” Barnier said. “More today than ever,” Barnier said.

On Monday (1 April), the UK government asked the country’s Electoral Commission in a letter to begin “contingency preparations for European Parliament Elections” in case they were required.

“Following Friday’s vote in the House of Commons, the opportunity to guarantee that the UK would not participate in EP elections has been removed,” the document stated.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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