The Other Side of Brexit

  • Mitchell Belfer
  • 12.8.2019 16:02

On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to exit the European Union. That singular decision was driven by a rainbow of interests, gut feelings, and superstitions. The debates that preceded the vote sounded out public opinion on trade, immigration, borders and, in general, attitudes of the electorate towards sovereignty and national identity. Those debates generated narratives that continue to divide British public discourses and consume national energies. The UK is, as a result, paralyzed and many of London’s priorities have become opaque. This is especially evident in foreign and security affairs. Brexit may be eroding the UK’s security interests - and few are talking about it.

Primarily it is economists and lawyers — armies of them — that have been engaged in unmooring Britain from the EU because Brexit has been erroneously framed as an economic and legal question. This is despite the sizeable percentage who voted Leave on issues related to immigration and border security. Since Brexit was, in part, a reflection of public safety concerns, it is surprising that the potential security impact has been orphaned from the wider debate and the implications remain salient since Brexit uncertainty is undermining trust between the UK and EU27. 

 

Brexit will affect the security of the UK and the EU and it is important to plan for that eventuality.

 

Brexit’s first victim may be the intricate system of pan-European security burden-sharing. The EU’s most potent instruments deployed — across the Continent — in pursuit of public safety are preparing for life without the UK. Europol, EuroJust, Frontex, the TREVI Group, the European Arrest Warrant, the Schengen Information System (etc) are tried and tested. Sure, some of these (re: the European Arrest Warrant), are in serious need of reform, but scuppering them altogether is not the answer. Fixing them is. If illegal immigration is cause for concern, redirect Frontex’s mission and operational capabilities, harness the Schengen Information System—sharpen the tools.

 

Over the past five years, UK-EU27 intelligence and security personnel have interrupted hundreds of terrorist acts, arrested dozens of financiers and expelled a multitude of network organizers.

 

UK-EU27 security concerns remain synonymous. Brexit will not change that. But Brexit sans security only serves to interrupt the EU’s multilayered, multinational approach and will heighten vulnerabilities across the Continent. When MI5 Chief, Andrew Parker, spoke of intelligence cooperation to confront the ‘twin threats,’ of Russia and ISIS, he did not mince his words. The UK — like the rest of the European Union — is facing a spike in terrorism and other forms of clandestine warfare. The only real answer is to enhance channels of communication and inter-service cooperation. Terrorist groups like ISIS, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, are joined by state actors to undermine European security. Whether using Muslim Brotherhood mosques to radicalize, Hezbollah or FSB assassins to kill, the modus operandi of Europe’s enemies is asymmetric. Large, cumbersome organizations may not cure that ailment, but they can certainly contribute. For instance, the Counter-Terrorism Group was set-up to comprehensively combat ISIS and involves all EU members, Switzerland and Norway. Intelligence is shared, threat analyses generated and interdictions made. Since 2015, dozens of terrorist attacks claimed hundreds of European lives. The existing counter-terrorism framework has ensured that those numbers have not reached into the thousands. Over the past five years, UK-EU27 intelligence and security personnel have interrupted hundreds of terrorist acts, arrested dozens of financiers and expelled a multitude of network organizers because the lines of communication and the mandates of intelligence sharing remain open. The system works. 

 

UK remains vulnerable to the same challenges facing the EU27. This is no time to reinvent the wheel. 

 

The UK brings important assets to the table. It extends nuclear deterrence, retains military facilities around the world and preferential treatment from Washington, Canberra, and Ottawa to Manama, Riyadh, and Delhi and its navy and special forces are world-class. Yet, the UK remains vulnerable to the same challenges facing the EU27. This is no time to reinvent the wheel. Brexit will happen—soon. But Brexit must not politicize security. There is too much at stake.

 

 


Mitchell Belfer is President of the Euro-Gulf Information Centre (Rome) and Senior Lecturer in Terrorism and Asymmetrical Warfare at Metropolitan University Prague.

About author: Mitchell Belfer

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