The future of UK diplomacy in Europe Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

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

1.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. (Paragraph 23)

2.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. (Paragraph 24)

3.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. (Paragraph 25)

4.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. (Paragraph 26)

5.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. (Paragraph 27)

6.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. (Paragraph 28)

7.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. (Paragraph 34)

8.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. (Paragraph 35)

The UK’s future bilateral relationships with the EU27

9.During this inquiry, we received mixed messages from the Foreign Secretary, the Minister for Europe, and the FCO Permanent Under Secretary. On the one hand, we were told that the FCO was not “doing Brexit” and it was focussing its attention on the capitals of the EU27. However, we were also told that the FCO had a crucial role to play in Brexit and that it was leading on negotiations on CFSP/CSDP and on other issues such as Gibraltar and sanctions. While the FCO said that it provided a platform for HMG in Europe, including the Department for Exiting the EU, it is unclear what this means in practice. (Paragraph 42)

10.We welcome the Government’s pledge that the UK will be more active than ever on the world stage after Brexit. However, we believe that close relations with our friends and allies in Europe, with whom we share values and interests, must be a necessary element of the Government’s vision for a ‘Global Britain’. We therefore recommend that the FCO publishes a paper outlining the overall goals and the specific priorities of UK foreign policy in Europe after Brexit. This should be published before the Western Balkans Summit in London in July 2018, so that the Government can use that occasion to assure the UK’s friends and partners across Europe that the UK will remain a cornerstone of European foreign policy and defence. (Paragraph 43)

11.More than 18 months after the referendum, the FCO has not yet put in place sufficient additional resources in its European network to manage the effects of Brexit. In the long-term, the FCO has been underfunded. Since 2010, moreover, it has deprioritised its European network in favour of its Asian network. This is no longer appropriate but as we aspire to a global role, both need extra resources. The FCO is now too thinly stretched in Europe at a time when it has a vital role to play in transmitting information to the UK Government, influencing the EU27 and delivering the message that the UK is leaving the EU, but not leaving Europe. By diverting FCO resources from other regions, and from Asia in particular, the UK’s influence outside Europe risks being undermined just as the UK will be relying more on relations with countries from these areas post-Brexit. (Paragraph 51)

12.The FCO will need to work harder in the EU27 capitals after Brexit but we are not satisfied that it has sufficient resources to do so. We welcome the FCO’s decision to deploy an additional 50 UK-based staff in Europe, but it has taken too long to deploy them. Moreover, it remains unclear what specific roles they will play. It is also unclear what further steps the FCO is taking to ensure that its European network can cope with the increased demands of maintaining effective diplomatic relationships with the EU27, without the level of automatic and regular access to the EU27 governments that came with EU membership. (Paragraph 52)

13.The FCO must increase its diplomatic presence in EU27 capitals, focussing on Berlin and Paris, and prioritising political and economic staff and Research Analysts. In its response to this Report, the FCO should clarify where the 50 additional staff already recruited have come from; where they have been deployed; what they are doing; what training they received before being deployed; and how and when the FCO will measure their impact. Without that information, it is difficult to see how these are truly additional staff. (Paragraph 53)

14.The FCO should commit to deploying the additional 100 UK-based staff that the Permanent Under Secretary mentioned when he appeared before this Committee. In its response to this Report, the FCO should provide us with a timeline for this additional deployment and set out how it will evaluate its overall impact. If these additional staff are recruited temporarily, as the PUS suggested, the FCO should provide us with a detailed explanation as to why they will not be needed permanently. (Paragraph 54)

15.If it has not done so already, the FCO should create a dedicated cadre of UK-based staff with a deep understanding of the EU institutions and the domestic politics and dynamics of its Member States and whose careers are anchored in the EU and its Member States. This could be modelled on the EECADRE, which was launched in 2015 and focuses on Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The FCO should also consider strengthening the practitioner and expert level training on the EU and its Member States that it provides in its Diplomatic Academy. (Paragraph 55)

16.It is vital that the UK maintains a significant diplomatic presence in Brussels. The task of representing the UK’s interests and exercising influence in the EU institutions will be more difficult when the UK is a third country. Considering the time it took the FCO to enhance its presence in Europe after the Brexit referendum, plans need to be put in place now for the UK’s representation in Brussels after Brexit. (Paragraph 59)

17.In its response to this Report, the FCO should provide us with the details of its recent analysis of third countries’ missions to the EU. Using this evidence, the FCO should set out a detailed plan for what the UK’s mission to the EU will look like after Brexit. Within this, the FCO should consider creating a dedicated Minister for Europe, who would focus solely on the UK’s relationship with the EU and its Member States, and would be resident in Brussels, with lead responsibility for the FCO’s European network. (Paragraph 60)

UK-Ireland Relations and Brexit

18.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 and its pledge that there will be no return to the borders and the violence of the past. We regret that tensions in the period leading up to the European Council summit in December appeared to endanger the hard-won positive momentum in UK-Ireland relations. We welcome the progress made thus far, but recognise that much more needs to be done. (Paragraph 66)

19.In order to ensure that the foundations of UK-Ireland relations remain as strong as they can be, we recommend that the FCO increase its diplomatic presence in Ireland, both in terms of size and seniority, beyond the additional UK-based staff deployed in the Embassy in Dublin after the Brexit referendum. This additional deployment of UK-based staff should focus on public relations as well as inter-governmental relations. (Paragraph 67)

20.By July 2018, the FCO, working as necessary with the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, should produce an analysis of the UK-Ireland bilateral relationship, containing recommendations to improve it and options to revitalize existing, or create new, bilateral institutions. (Paragraph 68)

29 January 2018