A mere two weeks into the Trump era we are already seeing how the new president’s impetuous and ill thought through measures are compelling Europeans, including the UK, to recognise that their shared values and interests are being put at risk, and that they will need to work together if they are to avoid seriously damaging outcomes. That was clearly demonstrated at the meeting of the European leaders in Valletta at the end of last week.

Just look at the score of that first fortnight. A travel ban on nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries and on refugees from Syria – only temporarily suspended – which could well act as a recruiting sergeant for radicalisation across the Muslim world and thus as a widening threat from terrorism to European countries’ security. A unilateral ramping up of sanctions against Iran. A substantial extension of Israeli settlement construction on occupied Palestinian territory and the first steps towards moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, both of which will make even more remote a two state solution. A flare up in fighting in Eastern Ukraine matched only by a cosy chat between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Mixed signals on the new administration’s attitude towards NATO. The apparent demise of two major future free trade agreements – TPP and TTIP – and the calling into question of an existing one – NAFTA. Not one of these measures is consistent with the policies either of the UK nor of the EU as a whole. No wonder the atmosphere in Valletta fell a long way short of optimism.

Also in recent days we have had the publication of the government’s White Paper on Brexit which, for all its skimpiness and overdue nature, does show a first glimmer of the realisation that it will be in the interest of all Europeans to work closely together after Brexit. ” We want to ……continue to work with the EU on foreign policy, security and defence ……..We will continue to play a leading role alongside our EU partners in buttressing and promoting European security and influence around the world ……..After we leave the EU we will remain committed to European security and add value to EU foreign and security policy” ( paras 11.9 and 11.11 of the White Paper). Welcome sentiments and timely ones. But how are they to be put into practice ? 

A bridge to nowhere             

The last thing we need now is to rest on dusty old claims to be a bridge between the two shores of the Atlantic, rescued from the library shelves of the 1960s and 1970s. We need new practical steps to ensure that, when the two year time limit in Article 50 expires, we avoid a severing of all the operating procedures which have hitherto linked us to our EU partners.

Clearly that cannot just mean business as usual, with a seat for Britain at the EU table and a potential veto on any action by the EU. The aim should surely be that, at an early stage in the negotiations for a new partnership, the 28 members of the present EU should state their firm intention that cooperation in the foreign and security policy fields should be sustained and enhanced even after Britain has left the EU. Their officials would then be instructed to devise procedures by which this overall objective could be achieved.

This will not be easy or straightforward. But some of the problems in other policy areas should not arise. The European Court of Justice does not, as a general rule, have jurisdiction over foreign policy and security issues. Budgetary contributions are less of a problem when most actions are inter- governmental. The two-year time constraint should not be as daunting here as it is on questions of free trade and immigration; and the need for interim solutions thus less evident. Let us hope therefore that common sense, mutual interest and political will can prevail over institutional and technical obstacles.

by David Hannay | 08.02.2017

Edited by Hugo Dixon

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