The idea that we can use security co-operation as a bargaining chip with the EU is implausibleby Arthur Snell / March 31, 2017 / Leave a comment
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. The same goes for threats: Theresa May’s Article 50 letter appears to link Britain’s desire for a generous post-Brexit trade deal with the possibility that it might withdraw high security co-operation. This has been seen as a threat by the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, by the European Parliament’s chief negotiator, by senior European politicians and by recently retired Whitehall Mandarins. To Home Secretary Amber Rudd it was crystal clear: “There are two separate items here, one is on the economy, the other is on security.” Then she admitted: “it’s the same paragraph but it’s not in the same sentence.” Her attempts to reassure were undermined when she announced, “we are the largest contributor to Europol, so if we left Europol then we would take our information.”
A reasonable assumption must be that this was meant as a threat—even if the reaction to it had not been adequately considered by government. Like any threat, it can only have an impact if the chances of its being implemented are plausible. Here it fails immediately for two reasons: ethical and practical.
Let’s start with the ethics. The assumption contained in this threat is that at some future point during failed trade negotiations, the UK decides to stop sharing intelligence with European partners. Let us assume this new approach is clearly signposted by the British so the remaining members of the EU understand the impact of their choices. Then let’s imagine MI5 learns of an Islamic State (IS) cell led by Belgian nationals that have returned from Syria after the fall of Raqqa in late 2017. This cell is plotting to detonate suicide vests in Brussels’s railway terminals in a co-ordinated spectacular at rush hour. The UK does not inform the Belgians. The attack takes place, resulting in numerous casualties, including British nationals.
However cynical one’s opinion of our nation’s leaders, this does not strike me as remotely plausible. Even if there were no British citizens at risk, it is very hard to imagine our intelligence agencies refusing to share information to make a point in a trade negotiation. And then there are the political consequences: the morning after such an attack the British media would be demanding to know whether our intelligence had forewarning, and whether it shared what it knew. Any government planning a cover up would face…