Brexit Day - RUSI Experts Look Ahead

As the UK leaves the European Union on 31 January, RUSI experts look ahead to the defence and security implications.

Time to Make Difficult Strategic Choices

There is now an opportunity for Boris Johnson to draw up a strategic framework for post-Brexit foreign and security policy. In order to do so successfully, however, he will need to move beyond the slogans of support for ‘the Rules-Based International System’ and a ‘Global Britain’ and make the difficult strategic choices – based on national interests and values – that are going to be needed in a fiscal and security environment that is likely to get tougher in the years ahead.

Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General, RUSI

Expect the UK to Quickly Develop an Independent Sanctions Policy 

Starting on 1 February, Brexit will allow the UK to design and implement its own sanctions regimes, free of the need to abide by EU positions.

The government is keen to immediately pursue so-called Magnitsky sanctions that would target individuals involved in human rights abuses.

UK unilateral sanctions will not operate in a vacuum, and it will likely seek to coordinate with the EU and/or the US to achieve maximum impact. This proliferation of sanctions regimes will nevertheless be a headache for the private sector which is ultimately responsible for implementing sanctions.

We can also expect the UK to use its independent sanctions policy on a standalone basis as a signalling tool to promote UK values as part of its Global Britain campaign.

It will be important for the government to use this new power in a balanced manner and avoid diminished legitimacy by applying different standards where future trade relations may be at stake.

For more on the UK’s sanctions policy after Brexit follow the work of RUSI’s Task Force on the Future of UK Sanctions. 

Tom Keatinge, Emil Dall, Isabella Chase, Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies, RUSI


Defence Acquisition Collaboration with Europe and Opportunities for Global Britain 

Overall it is hard to discern likely advantages from Brexit for defence acquisition and there are clear risks. It will be important for defence that the UK keep maximum access to European collaborative work and that the process of reaching final settlement with the EU does not cause deteriorating political relationships with major partners which in turn damage defence cooperation. The prominent transnational defence companies in the UK, which mostly are headquartered in mainland Europe, will want assurance that they can move goods and information across the Channel with minimal delay and extra work. However, there are memoranda of understanding to protect collaborative project work in this regard. 

The MoD’s financial problems would be eased by a recovery of the pound back towards its pre-2016 rate of more than $1.50.  A struggling economy may strengthen government readiness to place defence contracts at home but the price of a trade deal with the US could involve expectations and even commitments about where UK defence money is spent. UK efforts to collaborate on projects with new partners including Japan and Australia did not need and do not rely on Brexit to proceed. The defence industrial capabilities in Scotland and to a lesser extent in Northern Ireland give the MoD a strong interest in Brexit not resulting in the break-up of the UK. 

Professor Trevor Taylor, Director, Defence, Industries and Society Programme, RUSI


Continued Access to EU Law Enforcement Databases

The UK government needs now to urgently engage with the EU to negotiate continued access to law enforcement databases designed to facilitate cooperation and data sharing between member states. The UK was instrumental in developing these databases, along with the many capabilities which are now relied upon daily for the real-time sharing of data between law enforcement agencies. These negotiations are not likely to be made easy. The UK as a non-Schengen third country will need to agree to abide by EU legislation and data protection provisions governing the use of the databases, along with European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over any disputes. In the negotiations the UK government should seek to capitalise on the fact that the UK has been one of the largest contributors of intelligence to EU databases. Any proposal to restrict or deny access to the databases is likely to damage member states’ security as much as it would the UK’s security.

Keith Ditcham, Acting Director, Organised Crime and Policing, RUSI


National Security Cooperation Will Not Change, But It Will Be Clunkier

As of 1 February, the UK will have to find a new identity for itself in the world. It will no longer be tied down by the EU rules that are so reviled by many, but it also doesn’t have the security that comes with being part of a group of states that usually acts together and thus is more than its sum.  Because security is primarily the task of NATO, little will change with the UK’s departure from the EU, but cooperation at an operational level will be clunkier. This is a unique opportunity, but one that could leave the UK severely diminished if it fails to find a role for itself. Prime Minister Johnson will need to identify exactly what the UK’s interests are and how the government is going to pursue them.

Elisabeth Braw, Senior Research Fellow, Modern Deterrence, RUSI

Forthcoming Event

Britain in the World -  10 February 2020

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