(Bloomberg) -- A year after she first linked British security cooperation with Europe to a Brexit trade deal, Prime Minister Theresa May will do it again.
This time, the hope is that it won’t come across as a threat. In a speech to the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, May will propose a treaty between the U.K. and the European Union that would allow the current intense levels of cooperation between police and intelligence services to continue and cover issues such as data-sharing that require a new legal basis.
But such a treaty would also serve a higher purpose: It would establish that, in some areas, the EU is willing to consider new types of relationships with third countries. The bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has repeatedly insisted that no such option is available to the U.K. when it comes to trade.
“If the priority in the negotiations becomes avoiding any kind of new cooperation with a country outside the EU, then this political doctrine and ideology will have damaging real world consequences for the security of all our people, in the U.K. and the EU,” May will warn, according to speech extracts released by her office. “As leaders, we cannot let that happen.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday evening gave May some cover for this argument, saying that a bespoke settlement needn’t necessarily mean “cherry-picking” -- something that the EU Commission has said it won’t allow.
Security is an area where the U.K. has much to offer its EU partners, both in terms of military protection -- Britain has the second largest defense budget in Nato after the U.S. -- and intelligence.
The heads of both MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service, and MI6, its foreign intelligence service, have been at pains to reassure their European counterparts that Brexit needn’t mean less cooperation.
But May’s previous attempts to link cooperation on counter-terrorism with trade have backfired. In March 2017, the Article 50 letter that she sent to Brussels triggering Brexit negotiations seemed to suggest that Britain would withdraw cooperation if it didn’t get the kind of trade deal it wants. That was rejected by EU politicians, and is part of the background to an unprecedented public appearance on Friday by British, German and French intelligence heads, in which they affirmed their desire to continue cooperating.
May’s Munich speech will, on the one hand, insist that Britain’s support for European security isn’t in question. But on the other, she’ll say that, if that’s to continue, the EU will have to find a model for dealing with a third country that it doesn’t currently have.
“Europe’s security is our security,” the prime minister will say. “And that is why I have said that the U.K. is unconditionally committed to maintaining it. The challenge for all of us today is finding the way to work together, through a deep and special partnership between the U.K. and the EU, to retain the co-operation that we have built and go further in meeting the evolving threats we face together.”
If the EU is prepared to open the door to finding such a way, May will hope it allows through the issue she’s normally talking about when she mentions a “deep and special partnership” -- a trade deal.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.