The future of UK diplomacy in Europe Contents

2The UK and EU foreign, defence and security policy and Brexit


6.Within the EU, foreign, defence and security policy is a Member State competence. However, Member States agree common positions and authorise collective action through the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).1 In September 2017, the UK Government published broad proposals for a “deep and special partnership” in areas including foreign policy, defence and security.2 This was echoed in the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence later that month, in which she said that the UK is “unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security”. The Prime Minister also proposed a “security partnership” that would govern how the UK and the EU “work together to promote our shared values and interests abroad”, including “co-operation on diplomacy, defence and security, and development”.3

7.Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Brexit negotiator, spoke briefly about the possibilities for UK-EU co-operation in foreign policy, defence and security in November 2017 but the topic has received relatively little attention since the Prime Minister’s speech.4 However, the beginning of phase two talks means that it is now vital to consider a number of important questions:

The advantages and disadvantages of the CFSP and the CSDP

8.As many witnesses to this inquiry stressed, the UK is a European foreign policy heavyweight, independently of its EU membership. It is one of only two European countries with an independent nuclear deterrent and a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council; it has one of Europe’s largest diplomatic networks; it is a leading NATO member; and it is the only G7 member to spend both 2% of GDP on defence and 0.7% of GNI on development and aid. The UK will continue to carry significant weight in world affairs, whether or not it participates in the CFSP and the CSDP.

9.Several witnesses, however, told us that the CFSP/CSDP does help to amplify the UK’s voice in the world. For example, former Foreign Secretary Lord Hague said that the UK has benefitted from working through the EU, pointing to the example of the Iran nuclear deal: “The fact that the whole EU was together on that, and that the UK could help co-ordinate the EU and the United States on it, greatly added to the impact of western policy overall and to bringing Iran to the negotiating table”.5 Former Permanent Under Secretary at the FCO and Ambassador in Paris Lord Ricketts agreed that participating in the CFSP is an advantage to the UK, “not least because, usually, the British have been coming up with ideas and amplifying them through the EU and giving them greater impact in the world”. Lord Ricketts pointed to the example of sanctions against Russia: “The UK individually taking sanctions on Russia would not have had a great deal of impact, but the EU collectively taking them and keeping them on Russia for years after the Crimea invasion has increased their impact.”6

The importance of being “in the room”

10.Some of the evidence we received suggested that one of the principal benefits of the CFSP/CSDP is the opportunity it provides the UK to influence EU foreign policy by being present “in the room” throughout the decision-making process. Lord Hague told us that “[y]ou cannot beat being in the room. As we all know from being involved in politics or diplomacy, the way you influence a decision is by being in the room.”7 In a written submission, Dr Nicholas Wright from University College London said that if the UK is not “in the room” it “loses access to the resources and international impact of the EU as a foreign policy actor, and its capacity to directly influence EU foreign policy-making”.8 Lord Hague told us that the Political and Security Committee (PSC) is the most important of these rooms, that it “really is the driver”, because “[i]f you are not in on the agenda and politics of the Political and Security Committee, it is very difficult to influence on a daily basis at least, rather than in broad themes, the foreign affairs approach of the European Union”.9 Lord Ricketts similarly said that it would be helpful “to institutionalise regular discussions where the British ambassador went to the PSC once a week or once a fortnight and there were consultations at Foreign Minister level”.10

Options for an institutionalised format for post-Brexit co-operation

11.While the majority of the evidence we received suggested that it was desirable for the UK to remain “in the room”, particularly on the PSC, it also stressed that none of the current precedents for institutionalised co-operation with the CFSP/CSDP allow third countries to do so. These current models are:

a)Participation in CFSP/CSDP meetings, without voting rights, is reserved for countries that have signed an Accession Agreement and will become an EU Member State. Candidate countries such as Albania, which are on a path towards signing Accession Agreements, can join bi-annual informal meetings of EU foreign ministers, known as Gymnich Meetings.

b)Alignment with CFSP decisions on a case-by-case basis, often within 24–48 hours and with no option to amend the text, and invitation to participate in CSDP missions. This does not include access to the meetings in which decisions are taken and initial plans formulated. Countries that engage with the CFSP/CSDP in this way include Ukraine, which has signed an Association Agreement/Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU, and heavily-integrated EEA Members, such as Norway, which has a bi-annual foreign policy dialogue with the EU.

c)The EU has structured foreign policy dialogues with many countries, which include meetings between politicians, officials and experts. Those dialogues are most frequent and deep with “strategic partners” such as the United States.11

12.As Thomas Raines and Professor Richard Whitman from Chatham House and the University of Kent noted in their written evidence, these models only allow EU Member States to be members of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) and the PSC and therefore present a “docking problem” for third countries. Raines and Whitman conclude that:

Non-member states have been granted a range of formats to share views and to facilitate collaboration on foreign policy issues and security missions outside of [the FAC and the PSC]. But none of these existing arrangements are likely to prove sufficiently attractive to the UK as they would not allow for sufficient influence on EU policy formation (via direct participation in key institutions). They only allow for signing up to EU foreign policy positions and security and defence operations after decisions on content, scope and action have already been determined. This is essentially participation and partnership on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis.12

13.In his written submission, Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the last Parliament, argued that, instead of following an existing model, the UK and the EU should agree a new model, under which:

In his written submission, Dr Wright similarly suggested that the UK could seek formal observer status, with speaking rights in the PSC, “perhaps relating to a clearly demarcated set of issue areas”. He concluded:

The UK could and should not expect formal rights in decision-making as a non-member—for example, it would no longer have its current ability to block decisions it opposes. However, the nature of CFSP decision-making is such that strength of argument, expertise and willingness to deploy resources bestow significant influence in policy decisions.14

14.In their written submission, Thomas Raines and Professor Whitman also stressed the advantages of a special partnership but pointed out the difficulties of preserving EU and UK decision-making autonomy. They concluded:

The principle that could form the basis of cooperation in the future is institutionalised non-binding collaboration. Under such an approach, the UK should seek to achieve a new status as a partner or associate (rather than member or observer) of the EU on CSFP [sic] and CSDP matters, present by default — unless there is a formal objection from a qualified majority of Member States — in both the PSC and FAC.15

Options for an informal format for post-Brexit co-operation

15.James Rogers of the Henry Jackson Society told us that he could see “no harm” in the UK having some sort of relationship with the CFSP, but did not see how this could involve membership of its institutions.16 In his written submission, Mr Rogers argued that the UK “should not seek to participate directly in EU policies or programmes, especially as a foreign country with no say over policy” and proposed instead a “Treaty of Mutual Association” leading to “An EU-UK Council, which would act—as a bilateral platform—as the foreign, development and security policy coordination mechanism between the two actors”.17

16.In their written submission, former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen and former FCO official David Ludlow suggested that “[t]he UK and the EU will have to feel their way gradually to building a new relationship and it would be premature to look at putting in place any new structures”. They argued that the UK should be “extremely wary of seeing formalising EU foreign policy linkages as a priority”. Lord Owen and Mr Ludlow suggested that the UK should focus instead on NATO and the UN, and networks such as the G7 to “provide credible fora for continued UK involvement in wider European foreign policy”.18 Dr Nicholas Wright also suggested that the UK could engage Europe through NATO and the UN, where the UK has “an important leadership role”. He added that “continuing UK-EU alignment on many questions would seem likely”.19 Similarly, Professor Paul James Cardwell from the University of Strathclyde argued that “there is little doubt that foreign policy values between the UK and EU will continued [sic] to be shared”.20

The Government’s position on participating in the CFSP/CSDP after Brexit

17.On 12 September 2017, the UK published a paper proposing that UK-EU co-operation in areas including foreign policy, defence and security should continue after Brexit through a partnership that is “deeper than any current third country partnership” and that the UK should continue to support the CSDP, including the possibility that it “could work with the EU during mandate development and detailed operational planning”.21 However, the paper did not offer precise detail about the mechanisms that might underpin this.

18.Several witnesses told us that this position paper and the Prime Minister’s Florence speech were well-received in Europe, but left important questions unanswered. Lord Hague said that the speech “set the right tone” but that “what we do not yet have are detailed proposals from either side about how to achieve [unprecedented co-operation]”.22 Dr Margriet Drent from Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, said that the Prime Minister’s speech “created a bit more of a positive atmosphere” but that it “lacked some specificity on what it means”.23

19.We asked the Foreign Secretary if the ambitions outlined in the UK position paper included observer status in the FAC or the PSC. He said that “there is no Government position—we have not decided what we want to seek” and that the precise format for co-operation was subject to negotiation.24 He also said:

Whether we are going to be there in the room as observers or outside the room in some sort of Antici25 group … we will work it out. Whatever happens, we will come up with a mechanism by which we can show—this is the crucial point, which was made in the Florence speech and has gone down so well in other European capitals—our unconditional support for European security and defence. That is the crucial point that we need to get across. Exactly how we do it—exactly how the masonry of the buttress interlocks with the church—is for discussion, but we are going to be there and be supportive.26

20.We asked the FCO Permanent Under Secretary (PUS), Sir Simon McDonald, about the Government’s position. He said that the FCO was “not making a pitch” for observer status in the FAC and the PSC and he concluded that “The mechanisms will emerge in the negotiations over the next 12 months. I do not think there is any need for us to pin all our hopes on one particular model”.27 Asked whether he had advised the Foreign Secretary on a preferred course, the PUS told us that “this advice is still being developed” but that, ultimately,

The objective is continuous, transparent, automatic co-operation; we need to build up the networks—the links—that allow that to continue. Observer status is one, but it is not necessarily available; it is not necessarily the thing that is going to result at the end of this negotiation. I do not have a crystal ball; I do not know where we will be, but I will judge the model by whether we have continuous, automatic access.28

21.The Minister for Europe told us that “we cannot state categorically which rooms we are going to be in” and that there was a “spectrum of possibility”, from an institutionalised format or “Brussels model” to a less structured format or “Washington model”. When asked whether the aim of automatic, continuous and transparent co-operation suggested “more of the structured Brussels end of the spectrum”, he said: “I would like to think that people will want to consult us, because of our significance as a large and strong country” but he did not say what end of the spectrum was appropriate in the light of this.29

22.Similarly, in its written submission to this inquiry, the FCO stated that “the precise institutional frameworks to deliver [a] deep and special partnership will need to be discussed in negotiations” but that, in keeping with what the Prime Minister said in Florence, “[we] are working to ensure we have in place the network, structures and relationships that will allow us to intensify our influence in Europe—bilaterally and at an EU level”.30

23.The UK will remain one of Europe’s most powerful foreign policy actors whether or not it has an institutionalised arrangement for foreign policy co-operation with the EU. While the UK can chart its own course in world affairs, it is in our interests to work closely with others. Co-operation with our nearest neighbours in the EU would 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. We therefore welcome the ambition outlined in the Government’s position paper and in the Prime Minister’s Florence speech for an unprecedented UK-EU partnership, including the pledge of “unconditional support” for European security. It is essential that the negotiations reach a positive outcome because a bad deal that damages the economies of the UK and the EU will reduce the funding available to the security services that protect Europe.

24.We recognise that the precise contours of post-Brexit UK-EU co-operation in foreign policy, defence and security have yet to be negotiated. Some degree of institutionalised co-operation is, however, desirable and we therefore welcome the FCO Permanent Under Secretary’s assurances to this Committee that the Government’s objective is to secure continuous, transparent and automatic access to CFSP and CSDP decision-making mechanisms.

25.The Foreign Secretary told us that the Government has not yet decided what level of access to CFSP/CSDP decision-making it aims to secure or what framework it would like to put in place because to do so would put the UK “in the position of demandeurs”. However, he also indicated that the UK may seek to participate in some EU initiatives after Brexit, suggesting that the UK has some specific objectives in mind. It is important that the Government clarify its preferred outcome soon, in order to facilitate the best result for both sides and to ensure adequate parliamentary and public scrutiny of this strategic relationship.

26.We recommend that the Government publish an updated position paper within the next three months outlining in more detail its aims for the structures of post-Brexit UK-EU co-operation on foreign, defence and security policy. This should clearly set out the principles underpinning the proposed new structures. The ultimate goal should be to secure automatic and institutionalised collaboration that respects the decision-making autonomy of both the UK and the EU.

27.In order to facilitate an effective level of collaboration, we recommend that the Government should seek a status on the Political and Security Committee that allows the UK to have a representative in PSC meetings with speaking (if not voting) rights, except in circumstances agreed in advance by protocol.

28.We recommend that the Government should also seek to establish a UK-EU Strategic Partnership to facilitate enhanced dialogue on foreign, defence and security policy. This might include, for example, bi-annual summits of UK and EU27 foreign ministers and monthly meetings of Europe ministers, which could coincide with meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council.

EU defence integration and the European Defence Fund

29.In June 2016, the EU published the Global Strategy, outlining a vision for an EU that is more active in world affairs.31 Dr Laura Chappell from the University of Surrey told us that one of its component parts is “the idea of strategic autonomy: that the EU should be capable of acting without US capabilities”.32 Towards this end, some EU Member States triggered Permanent Structured Co-operation (PESCO), a Treaty of Lisbon provision designed to achieve greater defence co-operation among participating Member States.33 In addition, in November 2016 the European Commission published plans for a European Defence Fund (EDF), an initiative intended to comprise a defence research strand to fund collaborative research in defence technologies, and a defence capability strand to fund joint capability development. 34

30.There was mixed opinion among the witnesses we spoke to on the question of whether the UK can and should support and participate in EU defence integration measures like the EDF. Lord Ricketts told us that the EU “is not the right forum for organising and commanding military forces” but he singled out the EDF as a measure that may achieve success and that the UK should consider participating in.35 He said that “we should be encouraging any initiatives that produce improved capability” and that we should seek “an associate role in this European Defence Fund, so we can keep in touch with what is going on and ensure that British defence companies do not lose out”.36

31.In his written submission, Crispin Blunt MP argued that “the UK should welcome these developments. Indeed, one of the consequences of leaving the EU is that the veto that the UK so often exercised on further EU defence integration … leaves with us”.37 Professor Alice Pannier from Johns Hopkins University said that it is not in the UK’s or the EU’s interests “that there be less cooperation in the field of defence and security in the future” and that “French officials are very keen to facilitate a British participation in the European Defence Fund”.38 In contrast, James Rogers said that the UK should not “do anything that would allow any autonomous capability within the EU to grow” and that the UK should prevent this by removing our assets and capabilities.39

32.We asked the Foreign Secretary about the Government’s position on participating in measures such as the EDF after Brexit. He said:

We will continue to participate in all such agencies as they may be useful to the UK. That is something for decision and negotiation. If it becomes impossible as a result of our ceasing to be on the European Defence Agency, if it becomes impossible as a result of our ceasing to be a member, what we will seek is for UK defence concerns to be properly treated.40

33.In its written submission to the inquiry, the FCO said that the UK welcomes the EDF and that it is important that the legislation underpinning it—which is currently progressing through the Council and the European Parliament—”allows cooperation with third countries and that it does not lead to barriers to wider European industrial cooperation”.41

34.As a leading NATO power and EU Member, the UK has helped to underpin EU-NATO co-operation as envisaged in the EU-NATO Joint Declaration in July 2016. It will remain in the interests of the UK to work with leading non-EU NATO allies to encourage capability development within the EU. It is vital that the UK continues to argue that NATO should be the primary defence organisation protecting Europe, and that the EU should complement, not challenge, NATO. On this basis, the UK 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 and that the UK’s ability to co-operate with non-EU states is unconstrained.

35.It is important that the Government considers the future of UK access to the European defence industry and the potential implications for the UK defence industry of initiatives such as the European Defence Fund. If appropriate, this may include contributing to the EDF, on the understanding that the UK is an equal partner with EU Member States in the formulation and running of programmes in which it may choose to participate, and that the UK will retain the ability to act autonomously.

1 The CFSP and the CSDP are driven by intergovernmental dialogue between EU Member States, with decisions governed by unanimity. The principal CFSP decision-making bodies are the Political and Security Committee (PSC), the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper), and the European Council. The PSC consists of Ambassadorial-level representatives from the Member States. It meets twice a week or more to monitor the implementation of the CFSP and CSDP and prepare the FAC’s agenda. The FAC generally meets once a month and is, for the most part, constituted by Member States’ foreign ministers. It oversees the CFSP and CSDP and escalates issues to the European Council. Coreper is a twice-weekly meeting of Member States’ Permanent Representatives, which prepares the agenda of the European Council, the (generally) quarterly meeting of Member States’ Heads of State and Government, which, among other things, sets the strategic direction of the EU’s external action and agrees joint positions.

3 The Prime Minister’s Florence speech, 22 September 2017

4 Michel Barnier speech at the Berlin Security Conference, 29 November 2017

5 Q1 [Lord Hague]

6 Q1 [Lord Ricketts]

7 Q39 [Lord Hague]

8 Dr Nicholas Wright (EUR0013) paras 3 and 8

9 Q4 [Lord Hague]

10 Q38

11 Professor Karen E Smith (EUR0001) paras 3-5; Professor Paul James Cardwell (EUR0006) para 3; Dr Nicholas Wright (EUR0013) para 4; Mr Thomas Raines and Professor Richard Whitman (EUR0016) para 7; Dr Helene Sjursen (EUR0021) para 5. Professor Smith notes that in 2009, there were 33 expert-level meetings between the EU and the US.

12 Mr Thomas Raines and Professor Richard Whitman (EUR0016) para 7

13 Mr Crispin Blunt MP (EUR0002) paras 8-15

14 Dr Nicholas Wright (EUR0013) paras 15-16

15 Mr Thomas Raines and Professor Richard Whitman (EUR0016) para 11

16 Q295

17 Mr James Rogers (EUR0015) para 6

18 Lord David Owen and Mr David Ludlow (EUR0018) para 4

19 Dr Nicholas Wright (EUR0013) para 8

20 Professor Paul James Cardwell (EUR0006), para 16

21 Future Partnership Paper on Foreign Policy, Defence and Development, HM Government, September 2017, pp. 18, 19

22 Q12 [Lord Hague], Q13 [Lord Hague]

23 Q122, Q123

25 The Antici Group is an informal group that meets to form an initial impression of the positions Member States will adopt at meetings of the Committee of Permanent Representatives, which is itself the main preparatory body of the Council of the European Union.

27 Oral evidence: FCO budget and resources, 15 November 2017, Q53, Q55

28 Oral evidence: FCO budget and resources, 15 November 2017, Q56, Q60

29 Q136, Q139

30 Foreign and Commonwealth Office (EUR0007) paras 1.3, 4.5

31 The Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy, June 2016

32 Q102

33 PESCO is a permanent framework for structured co-operation and coordination between participating Member States, who undertake binding commitments in support of joint capability development and inter-operability. See: European External Action Service, PESCO factsheet, November 2017.

34 European Commission, European Defence Fund Factsheet, June 2017

35 Q2 [Lord Ricketts]

36 Q41, Q42

37 Mr Crispin Blunt MP (EUR0002) para 18

38 Professor Alice Pannier (EUR0011) para 7

39 Qs 298-299

41 The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (EUR0007), para 5.7

29 January 2018