As one of Europe’s leading foreign policy actors, whatever the precise contours of our future relationship with the European Union (EU), it will always be in the interests of the UK to co-operate with the EU and its Member States (the EU27) on foreign policy, defence and security. Working closely together will help us to protect and project our shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law and to underpin the international rules-based order.
The Foreign Secretary told us that the Government has not yet decided what level of access to EU foreign, security and defence policy decision-making it aims to secure or what framework it would like to put in place. This must be clarified soon. The ultimate goal should be to secure automatic and institutionalised collaboration that respects the decision-making autonomy of both the UK and the EU. This should include a status on the EU’s Political and Security Committee that allows the UK to have a representative in meetings with speaking (if not voting) rights and a UK-EU Strategic Partnership to facilitate enhanced dialogue on foreign, defence and security policy. In order to support European capability development that complements the work of NATO, the Government should remain open to the possibility of participation in some EU defence integration measures, on the understanding that national sovereignty over force deployment is preserved, that the UK’s ability to co-operate with non-EU states is unconstrained and that the UK will not participate in programmes unless it is an equal partner with EU Member States in the formulation and running of them.
During this inquiry, we received mixed messages about the FCO’s role in the Brexit process and beyond. The FCO should therefore publish a paper outlining the overall goals and the specific priorities of UK foreign policy in Europe after Brexit. This should include putting genuinely additional resources in place in its European network to ensure it can cope with the vital role it has to play in transmitting information to the UK Government, influencing the EU Member States and delivering the message that the UK is leaving the EU, but not leaving Europe. Increasing the UK’s diplomatic presence in Europe, in Brussels, Paris and Berlin in particular, will also help to equip the FCO for the increased long term demands of exercising influence in the EU institutions and maintaining effective diplomatic relationships with the EU27, without the level of automatic and regular access that came with EU membership. This extra commitment should not remove resources from its network in non-European states, which would be to undermine the Government’s stated policy of building a ‘Global Britain’.
Close relations with Ireland are vital to the UK’s national interest. We therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to preserving the progress that has been made in UK-Ireland relations in recent years. We regret that recent tensions appeared to endanger this hard-won positive momentum. We welcome the progress made thus far in negotiations but much more needs to be done. In order to ensure that this relationship remains as strong as it can be through and beyond these negotiations, the FCO should increase its diplomatic presence in Ireland and produce an analysis of the UK-Ireland bilateral relationship, containing recommendations to improve it and options to revitalise existing, or create new, bilateral institutions.
29 January 2018