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Westlake Legal Group > Foreign Policy

Stephen Booth: There are reasons to be sceptical about the Brexit deal. But its security provisions aren’t one of them.

Stephen Booth is Director of Policy and Research at Open Europe.

In the vociferous debate about the proposed Brexit deal, the implications for UK security and foreign policy have come a distant second to economic and institutional considerations. However, this week Richard Dearlove, former MI6 head, and Charles Guthrie, former chief of defence staff, have written to Conservative Associations warning that the Brexit deal will “threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways” and bind the UK into “new sets of EU controlled relationships”. We certainly should debate the UK’s future security and foreign policies in light of Brexit, but there are several reasons why these dire warnings about the proposed deal are either misplaced or implausible.

Successive UK governments have cooperated selectively with the EU in security and foreign policy, reflecting concerns about the direction of travel or degree of integration. The UK secured opt-outs from EU law enforcement and internal security integration and many Brexiteers cited the erosion of these protections by ECJ jurisprudence as justification for withdrawal. Nonetheless, matters of external security, defence and foreign policy were largely protected by our national veto, the threat of which the UK successfully used to prevent EU ambitions for an autonomous military HQ, for example.

At the root of concerns about the proposed deal seems to be a fear about what might happen, rather than what the Withdrawal Agreement actually says. It is true that, during the transition period, the UK will be bound by EU foreign and defence policy decisions. The UK may be consulted on a case by case basis, but we will no longer have a formal role in shaping these decisions or be able to lead any resulting operations. However, crucially, throughout the transition period, the UK can refuse to apply EU decisions for “vital and stated reasons of national policy” – we have a de jure veto. The UK will be bound by existing EU rules on police and judicial cooperation during this time, but will be excluded from new rules that fall under our existing law enforcement and Schengen opt-outs.

If the UK were to enter the Backstop, either in 2021 or by 2023, there is no agreed provision for UK-EU security and foreign policy cooperation. UK commitments under EU law and the Withdrawal Agreement would fall away and the basis for cooperation would need to be negotiated either separately or under the auspices of a comprehensive UK-EU future partnership. The UK would not be legally obliged as a result of the deal to do anything, although the Withdrawal Agreement provides both sides with the option of agreeing a successor security agreement – obviously the UK would have a veto over this.

It is further argued by the deal’s critics that “buried in the Agreement is the offer of a ‘new, deep, and special relationship with the EU in defence, security and intelligence”, which would undermine the UK’s three core security and foreign policy relationships with NATO, our US bilateral agreements and Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangements”. This warning presumably refers to the joint UK-EU Political Declaration on the framework for the future partnership.

First, as many critics of the deal have pointed out, the Political Declaration is not legally enforceable, whereas the Withdrawal Agreement would be. At this stage, it is simply an “offer” and does not bind the UK. Indeed, the lack of legal enforceability of the Political Declaration is the typically-cited reason for opposing the deal. Here the assumption is that the Political Declaration is binding. It is not.

Second, the future relationship foreseen in the Political Declaration is impossible to reconcile with the claim that it would undermine the UK’s core security relationships. Indeed, the declaration states that the entire future relationship should provide exceptions for matters of national security, which is the “sole responsibility” of the UK and the EU’s member states respectively. The UK could “participate on a case by case basis” in EU-led security and defence missions and be consulted accordingly. Intelligence sharing would be “voluntary” and the parties would “produce intelligence products autonomously”. The UK and the EU would pursue “independent sanctions policies driven by their respective foreign policies”. None of this would compel the UK, or the EU, to do anything at all with regards to external or security policy, other than keep the other party informed.

Finally, it is unclear what alternative, if any, form of cooperation with the EU the authors of these warnings would find acceptable. There is no doubt that past and future UK governments would rank the three core relationships with NATO, bilaterally with the US and Five Eyes, as the most important (a Jeremy Corbyn-led government might prove the exception). However, successive governments have also acknowledged that the UK must also promote its interests, both offensively and defensively, with European partners and allies. The UK has a close bilateral relationship with Europe’s only other globally-relevant military and defence power, France. This is underpinned by bilateral treaty, but France is actively pursuing its foreign policy interests via the EU and therefore cooperation with the French could well mean working with the EU to some degree. The question is on what basis.

Leaving the EU is likely to mean the UK will not be able to formally shape, lead or veto EU foreign policy or defence decisions in the future. This is a direct consequence of Brexit. Equally it means we will not be directly bound by them. It is possible to argue that the EU is being short-sighted in only offering the UK take it or leave it European cooperation on security and foreign policy issues. This may yet change, and if the EU wants to secure UK cooperation, our ability to provide resources and capabilities will be of immense value and therefore provide us with influence.

Nevertheless, it will be up to future governments to work out how best to further UK foreign policy interests independently of and sometimes in cooperation with the EU. Nothing agreed to date would prevent the UK from refusing to take part in EU-led or “controlled” initiatives or from insisting that any future cooperation would only be provided under a NATO umbrella.

There are many valid reasons to be sceptical about the Brexit deal. My judgement is that, on balance, it is worth supporting. But the concerns raised by Sir Richard and Lord Guthrie don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Benedict Rogers: Hunt’s review of British policy on the persecution of Christians is crucial and courageous

Benedict Rogers is East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a former parliamentary candidate and a Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute. He is the author of six books, including “The Very Stones Cry Out: The Persecuted Church – Pain, Passion and Praise” (co-authored with Baroness Cox).

I have always been passionate about defending freedom of religion or belief as a human right for everyone, of all religions and none. I have worked for many years with and for the Rohingyas and other Muslims in Burma, the Ahmadiyya and Shi’a in Indonesia, the Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners in China and twice visited and campaigned for an atheist in jail in Indonesia. My colleagues in CSW have similarly championed the cause of the Baha’is, the Yazidis, Hindus in Pakistan and others. Our motto is “everyone free to believe”.

However, for some time there has been a sense that the persecution of Christians has not been receiving the attention it deserves in certain quarters of our foreign policy establishment. Regardless of your views of Christianity, in simple statistical terms Christians around the world are persecuted in the most countries, from the widest range of sources – from radical Islamism, extremist Hinduism, Buddhist nationalism, from Communist authoritarianism, militant secularism or non-State actors such as paramilitaries and drug cartels in parts of Latin America. The International Society for Human Rights estimates that Christians are victims of 80 per cent of all acts of religious intolerance, even though they only represent 30 per cent of the global population. The Pew Research Center’s most recent report on global restrictions on religion states that the number of countries where various religious groups were harassed either by governments or social groups increased in 2016, and the most widely targeted groups were Christians, who face harassment in 144 countries, closely followed by Muslims, in 142 countries.

That is why Jeremy Hunt’s announcement on Boxing Day, to conduct a review of the Foreign Office’s response to the persecution of Christians worldwide, is so significant. In the five months since he became Foreign Secretary, I have already been impressed by the way Hunt has prioritised human rights, and shown personal leadership on many issues. As I have written on this site previously, his Policy Exchange speech was one of the most important speeches I have read by any Foreign Secretary. His focus on media freedom, his handling of Yemen, his decision to meet the wives of human rights lawyers jailed in China, his visit to Burma, his statements on the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, handling of the case of Matthew Hedges jailed in the United Arab Emirates, and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in prison in Iran, are just a few examples of how he has increased attention on human rights. This latest announcement is another, and is potentially the most courageous.

I had the privilege of participating in a meeting a week ago, hosted by the Foreign Secretary, alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, other senior church leaders and NGOs, and survivors of persecution from Iraq, Pakistan and Eritrea. I had the opportunity to highlight the situation in China, Indonesia, Burma and North Korea. The persecution of Christians in the Middle East is of course the most egregious, but it is not the only part of the world where Christians are in danger. I told Hunt that just three days before our meeting, I had received an email report about a Christian community in Burma holding a pre-Christmas celebration and being attacked and stoned by a mob of fifty militant Buddhist nationalists. China is facing the most severe crackdown on Christianity since the Cultural Revolution, involving the closure of many churches, the imprisonment of pastors and the destruction of crosses. In Indonesia, I visited three churches in Surabaya earlier this year which had been attacked by a family of suicide bombers. Across Asia, Africa, Latin America as well as the Middle East, Christians increasingly live in fear.

So a review of the Foreign Office’s policy specifically on the persecution of Christians worldwide is extremely welcome. We will see what comes out of the review when the Bishop of Truro, appointed to lead it, reports next Easter. I hope that at a minimum it will lead to the British government being more consistently outspoken, using its diplomatic networks to better defend persecuted Christians, ensuring our aid policy genuinely does not discriminate on religious grounds, for or against any religion, but recognises that faith-based aid groups can be part of the solution, and co-ordinates better with like-minded governments – particularly the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, the EU’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief and the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief – to ensure that the crisis facing Christians worldwide is no longer ignored.

As the Foreign Secretary says, “Britain has long championed international religious freedom. So often, the persecution of Christians is a telling early warning sign of the persecution of every minority… We must never allow a misguided political correctness to inhibit our response to the persecution of any religious minority.”

The test will be in the outcomes of the review and in the implementation of what recommendations may come, but in taking this initiative Hunt has already symbolically shifted the Foreign Office in a better direction, and for that he deserves our appreciation.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com