Europe Analysis

Brexit and Security

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Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images 

The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union will not make the country less vulnerable to terrorist and security threats. In leaving the EU, the UK will need to realign its relationship with the remaining 27 countries on crucial security issues. The Tactics Institute for Security & Counter Terrorism outlines some of the key challenges in the world that the UK must consider during its disentanglement from its European treaties, agreements and commitments.


UK Politics

The deadline for the UK’s departure from the EU is now October the 31st. In this period of under five months, the procedures and machinations of the British political system, and of the ruling Conservative party, will go a long way to deciding whether the departure actually happens in October and whether it is a departure that leaves the UK and the EU in positions of strength to deal with shared threats.

On June the 7th Theresa May will cease to be the UK prime minister and a Conservative leadership election will commence in earnest. By the end of July the party hopes to have a new leader in place, who will become the second consecutive prime minister chosen by the Conservative party, rather than by the public.

There are many candidates. They include former foreign secretary Boris Johnson; current foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt; home secretary Sajid Javid; environment secretary Michael Gove; health secretary Matt Hancock and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab. Brexit will be the dominant and decisive issue on which they campaign. Conservative MPs will whittle the list of candidates down to two, who will go head-to-head and be chosen by Conservative party members, who number around 100,000. The membership is predominantly Eurosceptic, which might encourage candidates to call for a clean break with the EU, despite the security anxieties this might cause among civil servants, diplomats and the public.

Boris Johnson is the current favourite and he declared: “We will leave the EU on October 31, deal or no deal,” after May announced her resignation. This outcome offers little in the way of time and space for the UK and EU to forge a new security understanding.

And even ministers who had supported May through her failed attempts to win parliamentary support for her exit deal are moving into firmer hard Brexitstances.

In late September the annual Conservative party conference will get underway. The UK’s new prime minister will address his/her party. Mrs May’s first conference speech as prime minister saw her vow to pursue a hard Brexit policy. This was popular among Tory MPs and members, but the political reality was very different and many felt betrayed by May. Policies such as ending the free movement of EU citizens and taking Britain out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice are popular with Conservatives and anti-EU campaigners but less so with the European partners the next prime minister must negotiate with.

The 31st October signals the new European Commission taking office, so there is less likely to be a Brexit extension granted by the EU as it previously agreed. It is possible that in October the UK, following the upheaval and political paralysis caused by the Conservative leadership selection process, will face a stark choice: ratify the exit treaty, a no-deal Brexit, or reject the democratic decision of the population to leave the EU.

Withdrawal needs approval from the UK and European Parliaments. Legal ambiguity can be referred to the European Court of Justice. When the UK finally leaves, it can begin trade negotiations with the EU and a transition period will come into effect, lasting up to December 2020.


In this highly politicised atmosphere, it is likely that the word security will be mentioned regularly, although without being subject to significant public debate or scrutiny. This is despite the fact that the UK and EU member states will continue to share security threats that know no Brexit and UK-EU security cooperation will remain crucial.

The Brexit crisis takes place in the context of a highly unstable global security situation. The chances of a war between the United States and Iran have risen in recent weeks, with the US bolstering its military presence in the Persian Gulf. Both Iran and the US have proxies in the region who might also strike, which could lead to a flare up and a domino effect.

The EU Common Foreign and Security Policy secured a major achievement with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran Nuclear Deal of 2015. This has been abandoned by the Trump administration and if the US president uses a post-Brexit trade deal as leverage to gain UK support for further punitive action against Iran, it could prove a fatal blow to UK-EU foreign policy and security cooperation.

Other ongoing and potential flashpoints are also of concern, including the fact that the UK is caught between Washington and Beijing in the US-China trade conflict, and will be challenged to take stronger positions, on one side or the other, over the US-backed Saudi-UAE war on Yemen and the so called deal of the century Middle East peace plan, which could see the Palestinians move away from the traditional two-state approach out of Israel’s military occupation.

All eyes will be on the UK in the coming months, and the direction the country chooses to travel in could have major implications on security, for itself and the world.