One hundred years of British solitude: Magical thinking about Brexit and security

A British exit from the EU would make it harder to fight crime and terrorism, reduce Britain’s ability to lead and influence its partners, and weaken NATO

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A British exit from the EU would make it harder to fight crime and terrorism, reduce Britain’s ability to lead and influence its partners, and weaken NATO – putting future generations of Britons at risk, according to a paper from the European Council on Foreign Relations.

After recent warnings from David Cameron and former NATO chiefs that “Brexit” would make Britain less secure, ECFR draws on interviews with top ex-security officials, regional experts, and five years of data on European foreign policy to weigh the arguments on each side.

“One Hundred Years of British Solitude: Magical thinking about Brexit and security” finds that, as the US steps back from its role as global police officer and the world splits into rival power centres, Britain will need its allies in Europe more than ever. The EU is uniquely placed to fight with the 21st century’s most powerful weapons – not guns and bombs, but sanctions, regulations, and trade regimes.

Seven key security benefits of EU membership:

  • EU security policy is shaped by British interests. The UK has influenced key EU decisions, such as sanctions on Russia and the response to the Syrian crisis. ECFR’s Foreign Policy Scorecard, which ranks member states’ influence on EU policy, has consistently placed the UK in the top three. The UK gets the best of both worlds because it retains a veto: Britain can enhance its power with EU support, but is not bound by the policies of other member states.
  • EU police cooperation makes Britons safer. In the last five years alone, European Arrest Warrants have allowed Britain to bring 650 people to justice, including tax evaders, fraudsters, drug traffickers, human traffickers, a child abusing priest, and a bus stop rapist.
  • EU intelligence sharing is crucial to fighting terrorism. Much of the most vital information on terrorism comes from our EU partners. Membership gives access to the large shared datasets needed to track the movements of terrorists.
  • Britain shapes EU sanctions. These have become one of the most significant instruments for challenging difficult global players such as Russia and Iran. The EU currently has sanctions in place against 38 countries and entities.
  • The EU gives the UK added clout. In a world run by continent-sized powers and regions that are integrating, the EU adds heft to the UK. All Britain’s key non-EU partners want the UK to stay in, from China to the US and the Commonwealth states. By contrast, Brexit is supported by Marine Le Pen, Putin, and Donald Trump.
  • The UK retains its border controls. EU membership allows Britain to push its border to Calais. And, despite receiving only 3 percent of the EU’s asylum applicants in 2015, the UK is the sixth highest recipient of support from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, getting some €40 million per year.
  • NATO needs a strong Britain in a strong EU. The current NATO chief, and each of his five most recent predecessors, have urged Britain to stay in the EU.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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