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Brexit would be bad for security

When they consider the security offered by the EU, Eurosceptics only consider narrow questions of the abilities of Britain’s military, security forces and diplomatic services to work together in defence of the country. However, the question of Brexit’s impact on Britain’s safety must cover considerably more ground. Brexit could contribute to regional and local instability that would make Britain less secure.

Gains

On the positive side, representatives from the EU have been important in pushing for regional progress. The EU’s High Representative on foreign affairs was pivotal in 2013-2015 diplomacy leading to the historic deal ending Iran’s isolation and regulating its use of nuclear power. The Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif explicitly valued working with the EU’s representative, Baroness Ashton, rather than countless individual diplomats, and America appreciated the cohesive support.

The EU’s considerable contribution to peace in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Kosovo and eastern Europe is examined in another sheet.

The strength of this unity does not come at the expense of Britain being able to act alone. Britain joined the Iraq war against the opinion of most EU states, and together with France, conducted air strikes in Libya to save Benghazi, again when the EU was split. British action in Syria now is neither helped nor hindered by the EU. While it can be frustrating that the EU does not always support Britain’s foreign policy positions, it is better that such matters can only be decided unanimously. If Britain were able to drag reluctant states into a war, the trade-off would be that our armed forces may be forced into a war decided by EU majority in the future. As the treaties stand, this is impossible. Likewise the Ukip fear of a ‘European Army’ is not possible without the UK’s agreement.

Fear of the EU controlling Britain’s military or directing its foreign policy is hyperbolic or based on extreme predictions of future integration, hypothetical treaties no British government would agree to. Military action and the position of the Foreign Office are entirely under Britain’s control, and Britain has a veto on EU collective action in these areas. The EU countries try to take a unified position on foreign policy questions, certainly, but it is quite usual for countries to act alone or in smaller groups.

Risks

Conversely, a poorly managed Brexit could increase tension on the Ireland-Northern Ireland border. Any exit arrangement would require customs officials to check goods crossing either direction, which may need to meet tariff, quota or origin rules requirements. If post-Brexit Britain looks to limit European immigration, then heavier border controls will be needed across Ireland to stop Europeans flying to Dublin then travelling by land into the north. Currently the border is virtually non-existent: the re-imposition of guards and border apparatus would be a symbolic step backwards in the peace process, one that ultra-nationalists may (and I certainly hope, would not) see as a provocation.

Prominent Leave-supporting Conservative David Davis points out that roughly five million European jobs depend on current trade levels with Britain. These would not all be lost, no matter how poorly trade relations go after Brexit, but even a temporary 10% dip in employment would be very damaging to nations already fragile from euro currency instability and the aftershocks of the financial crisis. Likewise, the euro itself could suffer if Brexit caused another drop in market confidence.

Moreover, a number of these states are experiencing considerable political instability. The trade disruption and political upheaval of Brexit could contribute to the rise of the National Front (France), Golden Dawn (Greece), the Sweden Democrats (Sweden) or Jobbik (Hungary). An abrupt end to Britain’s EU budget contributions could cause both hardship, from projects already started based on expected funding ending, and resentment from those seeing their prospects of living in or selling to Britain limited. In addition, forcing migrants from these unstable countries currently in Britain to return home (as some out campaigners appear to want) would contribute to the home states’ serious unemployment problems and the strain on their welfare systems.

It is also hard to see how Brexit, and Britain wiping its hands of the problem entirely, would help the other 27 nations deal with the asylum crisis. Greece is being cut off from Schengen and from help, even though it was already a weak economy and already had a vibrant right-wing movement with links to the police and military. Free movement within the EU will continue after Brexit, so Britain will still be exposed to irregular migration and criminal trafficking risks: European states that have to divert resources to placating angry populations or investigating extremist groups may by more likely to miss dangerous people travelling to Britain. Moreover, there would be less incentive for France in particular to monitor or halt dangerous migrants at the Calais border: northern French politicians have already threatened to abandon the unique Calais arrangement if Britain leaves.

European cooperation on military matters is far from perfect and sceptics make valid points on these topics, but, in brief, it is difficult to see how Britain and the other 27 would work together better in reality if they had to go through the process of decoupling from EU institutions and forming new cooperative bodies over several years. The same concerns and reluctances on each side would remain, the same imperatives.

As Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol explained, cooperation on police and terror monitoring would probably continue after exit, but would be “much less effective” in his opinion, because the implication of Brexit is that Britain would disengage to some degree. He added, ‘The UK will be absenting itself from having access to the kind of well developed arrangements that currently exist and have developed over the last 40 years’. Likewise ten prominent former leaders of the UK military from the army, air force and navy, wrote to the Telegraph warning against Brexit. Representatives from the Falklands and Gibraltar, probably Britain’s most exposed territories, have come out in favour of Remain.

Ukraine

With the benefit of hindsight, many Eurosceptics attack the EU for stoking dissent in Ukraine which contributed to the civil war and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. This is unfair. Firstly, Britain could have restrained the EU, either at the early stage of offering a trade agreement to Kiev, or during the pro-Western meetings during the Maidan protests. Instead the Foreign Office did very little, allowing the EU, Germany and Poland to take the lead – albeit with British Commissioner Catherine Ashton representing the EU. European integration has so far successfully brought 10 former communist states, plus East Germany, into the western sphere of liberalised trade and open democracy. Doing the same with Ukraine, gradually and without any element of military deals, made perfect sense in 2012. Russia’s reaction was not an obvious prediction, and it seems perverse to blame the EU for the situation in Ukraine when Russia is the most clearly culpable party.

  • Jonathan Lindsell