Britain is crucial to European security, and the EU knows it

Telegraph View
The rock: British because its residents like it that way. - Paul Grover

It is time for some people to grow up. The Government triggered Article 50 last week, and when negotiations begin in earnest everything is going to be on the table. The UK wishes to discuss trade; the EU wants the British to pay an absurdly large divorce bill. Security, of course, is bound to come up. Those proclaiming outrage at this idea are being either naive or disingenuous. The Government should ignore them.

Its Article 50 letter warned that failure to achieve a good Brexit deal “would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened”. Critics in Brussels and Westminster denounced the Government for saying this; the Government claimed it had been misinterpreted. But this newspaper has been shown evidence that last month senior figures in the Cabinet did indeed point out the power of security as a European issue and urged that it be used as leverage.

They were pointing out the facts. The security of Europe is precarious. Islamist terrorists are operating within its borders; four people were killed in London last month by a fanatic. Russia, meanwhile, is flexing its muscles. Congress is investigating possible links between Moscow and the 2016 Trump campaign – allegedly a complex web of personal and business ties that might even connect back to an academic seminar at Cambridge University. All of this is depressingly reminiscent of the Cold War. Russia is accused of using subterfuge to undermine the Western alliance, all the while that anti-corruption protestors are arrested on its streets and dissidents die abroad.

Europe needs our excellent security forces, and it needs our intelligence sharing. It needs our Armed Forces, too. The Europeans simply do not spend enough on defence: some of them, such as Spain and Italy, cannot because of restrictive EU rules on spending. Germany has plenty of money at its disposal but it still won’t match the Nato defence target of two per cent of GDP. Britain not only meets it but also has the fifth largest defence budget in the world. We have a nuclear arsenal, permanent membership of the UN security council, an active role in the US-led coalition in the Middle East and troops stationed in the Baltics. In short, Britain is the real deal when it comes to defence. Europe truly, desperately needs us.

Brexit | What happens next?

Reciting this at the negotiating table is not a threat but a reminder that the EU is not saying au revoir to Lilliput. It is in talks with a major power. And the Prime Minister has rightly stated that she wants those talks to result in a deal that is good for both sides. After years of acrimonious relations, there is a chance here for an awkward member state to become a better neighbour and friend. There is no reason why the EU cannot offer the UK a trade deal that gives both nations the greatest possible access to each other’s markets, while cementing bonds of mutual security that have proved so strong in the past. It was Nato that won the Cold War, not the EU.

How sad, then, that some in Europe have responded to Britain’s desire to converse frankly and reasonably with threats. There has been an attempt to draw the future of Gibraltar into the Brexit debate, which is a bilateral question and not for these talks. The matter is settled: Gibraltarians are British and wish to remain British. It is a distraction, exactly the type of issue that should not be allowed to disrupt the negotiations or cause an artificial, silly rupture between allies. Spain needs to move on. As Argentina has learnt, moaning about British imperialism in 2017 – decades after it was a geopolitical reality – is facile, boring and certainly won’t get them what they want.

Brexit | The European Union’s core negotiation principles

Boris Johnson tells this newspaper that, as far a the Government is concerned, “Gibraltar will not be bargained away”. The same rhetorical certainty should flavour Britain’s entire negotiating position. After all, this country is in a very strong position. Aside from its defence outlays, the UK boasts the fastest-growing advanced economy in the world, an import market that is critical to the Europeans, technical expertise, and business innovation that the EU would wish to retain open access to. For once, we agree with Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, who last week warned Brussels not to punish the UK and, by so doing, cut itself off from a capital city that is “the single most important organ for growth across Europe”.

Too often militant Remainers prophesy disaster in the Brexit negotiations on the basis that Britain has so much to lose and the Europeans will use that to their advantage. But the opposite is also true. The UK has so much to offer to the continent – and our European cousins should think carefully about what they might win or what they might miss if these talks go a certain way. Mrs May should not be afraid to remind the EU how critical Britain is to its wealth and security.

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